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Eurovision fines Ukrainian delegation over T-shirts supporting Azovstal defenders

by Abbey Fenbert May 15, 2024 5:46 AM 3 min read
Singer Alyona Alyona, one of Ukraine's representatives at the Eurovision Song Contest 2024, speaks to the press at the Central Railway Station upon her return to Kyiv on May 13, 2024. (Eugen Kotenko / Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
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The organizers of the Eurovision Song Contest fined the Ukrainian delegation for wearing T-shirts printed with the logo "Free Azovstal Defenders" during the event, Ukrainian artist Alyona Alyona said in an Instagram post published May 14.

Ukraine's Alyona Alyona and Jerry Heil won third place at the 68th Eurovision competition on May 12 with their song "Teresa & Maria."

According to Alyona Alyona, the Ukrainian delegation chose to defy Eurovision's ban on political messaging by wearing shirts calling for the release of imprisoned Azovstal defenders, the soldiers who defended Ukraine's last stronghold in occupied Mariupol.

"We knew that when they would show replays of the performances of all the artists, they would also show the delegation itself," said Alyona Alyona, whose real name is Aliona Savranenko.

"So when the camera came up to us, our team quickly opened up and showed our appeal to the whole world."

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The last time Natalia Kravtsova heard the voice of her son was on May 18, 2022, two days after he was captured by Russian troops in Mariupol. She has not heard from him since. Shortly after news broke on Jan. 24 that a Russian Il-76 military transport plane had crashed

Appearing in the shirts at the event was "a risky and difficult task," Savranenko said. The delegation had to hide the T-shirts under their other clothes in order to avoid detection from the guards.

Even getting the shirts printed in the first place proved challenging, by Savranenko's account. Some printers weren't able to complete the order while others refused.

"However, we were able to come to an agreement with one printing company after calling them five times and tearfully begging for help," Savranenko said.

The T-shirts incurred a fine from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), an alliance of public service media organizations that organize the contest along with a host country broadcaster each year. Savranenko did not disclose the amount of the penalty.

Savranenko said the risk of breaking the EBU's rules was worth it to express support for Azovstal defenders in Russian captivity.

"We took a big risk, but it worked out. We just got off with a financial fine," she said.

The EBU also cracked down on performers who tried to signal support for Palestine amid the ongoing invasion of Gaza, which has killed over 35,000 Palestinians since October 2023. Protesters criticized Eurovision for allowing Israel to participate in the 2024 contest.

Russia was banned from Eurovision in 2022.

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