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Russia Jeered, Ukraine Cheered, But Both Advance To Eurovision Finals

The Tolmachevy Sisters, representing Russia, performing their song "Shine" during rehearsals for the first semifinal of the 59th annual Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen on May 5.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have dominated headlines for months, and May 6 was no exception. The only difference was the battlefield: not Mariupol or Odesa, but the blue-lit Diamond Stage in the Danish capital Copenhagen.

It was there, before tens of thousands of fans, that Ukraine's Maria Yaremchuk and Russia's Tolmachevy Sisters met with cheers and boos as they advanced to the May 10 final of Eurovision 2014.

The Tolmachevys, 17-year-old identical twins, were the first of the two to perform. Balancing atop a giant see-saw and clutching clear plastic tubes of indeterminate function, their blond tresses intertwined, the sisters performed a flawless version of "Shine," their Filip Kirkorov-penned anthem calling on the world to "show some love."

Minutes later, Yaremchuk took to the stage for her upbeat love song, "Tick Tock." Not to be outdone by the twins' balancing act, she came armed with a substantial prop of her own -- a human-size hamster wheel, kept in motion by an admirably fit dancer throughout the length of the 3-minute song.

The real drama came later in the evening, when the auditorium erupted in loud boos after announcers revealed the Tolmachevys had advanced to the finals.

Many interpreted the jeers as a commentary on Russia's intervention in Ukraine, although the Eurovision audience -- largely comprising gay men -- may also have been expressing anger over the country's raft of antigay legislation.

Yaremchuk, who likewise advanced to the final round, used her time at the finalists' press conference as an open shout-out to her homeland, saying: "I'm Ukrainian, and everything I do here is for the Ukrainian people. I'm not standing alone on stage -- there are 46 million Ukrainians behind me."

The Tolmachevy Sisters refrained from political commentary, saying only that their "emotions are overflowing."

A total of five post-Soviet bloc countries advanced to the final, including Montenegro, Azerbaijan, and Armenia -- whose performer, Aram Mp3, apparently survived a wave of bad publicity after criticizing a fellow performer, Austrian drag entrant Conchita Wurst, a contestant in the second semifinal on May 8. (Georgia, Lithuania, Belarus, Macedonia, and Slovenia are also set to perform.)

Aram has also been predicted by some Twitter pundits as a possible favorite to win, an outcome that would put impoverished Armenia in the challenging position of hosting the world's most lavish song contest on the occasion of its 60th anniversary. Sweden, however, appears to dominate the early speculation as the likely winner.

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