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Ukraine Bars Russia's Eurovision Contestant Over Crimea Visit

Russia's Eurovision contender Yulia Samoilova (file photo)

Ukraine's main state security agency has announced it has barred Russia's contestant in the Eurovision Song Contest from entering the country, drawing a swift and angry reaction from Moscow.

"The Security Service of Ukraine has prohibited Russian Federation citizen Yulia Samoilova from entering Ukrainian territory for a period of three years," agency spokeswoman Olena Hitlyanska said on Facebook on March 22.

She said the decision was based on information indicating that Samoilova had violated Ukrainian law, an apparent reference to a visit by the singer to Crimea in 2015 -- the year after Russia seized control of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine.

Ukrainian law enables the government to ban people who have traveled to Crimea without obtaining prior permission from Kyiv. Ukraine last year blacklisted 140 Russian performing artists on those grounds.

Ukraine won the right to host this year's edition of Eurovision, a colorful annual song contest watched live on television by nearly 200 million people last year, when its contestant won in 2016. The final will be held on May 13 in Kyiv.

The Russian Foreign Ministry denounced the ban in a March 22 statement, calling the Ukrainian government a "regime infected with Russophobic paranoia."

"By doing this, [Kyiv] not only demonstrated its political ineptitude and weakness, but also its true attitude to so-called European values," the ministry said.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said that barring Samoilova was "the latest baldly cynical and inhuman act by the Kyiv authorities."

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin called the ban "the latest baldly cynical and inhuman act by the Kyiv authorities."

The move also drew criticism from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which co-produces the event with the host country each year.

The Swiss-based organization told RFE/RL in a March 22 statement that it had confirmed that Ukraine had issued a travel ban against Samoilova, and that it must "respect the local laws of the host country."

"However we are deeply disappointed in this decision as we feel it goes against both the spirit of the Contest, and the notion of inclusivity that lies at the heart of its values," the statement said.

It added that the EBU "will continue a dialogue with the Ukrainian authorities with the aim of ensuring that all artists can perform" in Kyiv.

Samoilova, 27, was chosen as Russia's contestant on March 12. The singer, who suffers from a rare muscular disorder that leaves her bound to a wheelchair, performed in the Crimean city of Kerch in mid-2015.

Russia took control of Crimea in March 2014, after sending in troops and staging a referendum considered by most countries worldwide as illegitimate.

The takeover was decried in the West as an aggressive attempt to redraw European borders and upset the postwar security order, and led to the imposition of sanctions on Russia by the United States, the European Union, and other countries.

Moscow moved to seize the peninsula after Russian-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was pushed from power in Kyiv by protesters incensed over his decision to scrap plans for a pact tightening ties with the European Union.

The seizure of Crimea, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has called sacred Russian land, was followed by an upsurge in separatism in eastern Ukraine, which Kyiv says was fomented by Moscow.

It led to a war between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces that has killed more than 9,900 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

Russia accused Ukraine of politicizing last year's competition by choosing as its entrant Jamala, a Crimean Tatar whose song decried war-time deportations of the Muslim minority from the peninsula under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in the 1940s.

Most Crimean Tatars opposed Russia's takeover of Crimea, where they made up about 12 percent of the population before it was annexed by Moscow, and many boycotted the referendum.

Putin pledged to respect the Crimean Tatars and treat them well, but rights groups say they have faced abuses and oppression under the Russia-imposed authorities.

With reporting by Unian, Interfax, and TASS
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