Boris Johnson has said Ukraine deserves to host next year’s Eurovision song contest and that he hopes it will be able to do so despite the ongoing war with Russia.
The BBC is in talks with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) about hosting the event in the UK, which came second in the 2022 contest, after the body ruled it could not go ahead in Ukraine as planned.
Speaking to reporters at RAF Brize Norton after returning from an unannounced visit to Kyiv, Johnson said he believed it should be possible for the contest to go ahead there.
“The Ukrainians won the Eurovision song contest. I know we had a fantastic entry, I know we came second and I’d love it to be in this country,” he said.
“But the fact is that they won and they deserve to have it. I believe that they can have it and I believe that they should have it. I believe Kyiv or any other safe Ukrainian city would be a fantastic place to to have it.”
Johnson’s comments come after Ukraine’s culture minister, Oleksandr Tkachenko, said the decision to move Eurovision undermined his country after it was invaded by Russia. “Is it fair to take it away from the country that is fighting for democracy on behalf of the civilised world?” he asked.
Ukraine has insisted it can host the song contest safely on its own territory and says it will oppose plans to relocate it to the UK.
Ukraine won this year’s contest with Kalush Orchestra’s Stefania, as viewers across the continent came together to vote for the song and show solidarity with the country. The EBU, however, has said the ongoing war means Ukraine will not be able to host the contest safely and have asked the BBC to host it in the UK instead.
Tkachenko said the Ukrainian government and security services had submitted detailed plans to the EBU, and that the Ukrainian people were hurt by the decision to move the event. “Eurovision is not only several hours of television, it’s also a symbolic global event,” he said.
The organisers had given him only 20 minutes’ notice on Friday that it had decided to reject Ukraine’s proposals, he said.
Tkachenko held emergency talks with the British culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, in an effort to find a solution, with the UK government still publicly expressing hope Ukraine can host the contest.
“We have common understanding that it should be discussed one more time,” he said of his call with his UK counterpart.
UK government sources suggested that if the BBC does end up hosting the contest, it would have a strong Ukrainian theme and focus on symbolic links between the two countries. The BBC went out of its way to avoid sounding upbeat in its statement, acknowledging the offer to enter talks.
Several British cities have already expressed an interest in hosting next year’s contest, including Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester.
Tkachenko said the cities should instead show solidarity with Ukraine by pushing for the competition to be held in his country. He said “We love Britain because of the full support of the Ukrainian resistance, but until we discuss it with the EBU one more time, it is not the right time to start the discussion between cities in the UK.”
He would not go into details of Ukraine’s proposals, but it is possible they would include changes to the current Eurovision format in which thousands of people attend the event live.
“We spoke to them a few days ago presenting our vision of how we could host Eurovision in Ukraine, despite all the difficulties, but we didn’t get back any questions, either about security or anything else,” Tkachenko said.
The EBU was more interested in its own hosting requirements and should “consider how to change the rules of Eurovision for the country that is fighting for independence and democracy”, he said.
“We have the full right to host Eurovision, according to the rules of Eurovision. Not even discussing the possibilities is a concrete message that the EBU is more interested in their own rules than helping to defend democracy and find a solution in the interests of both sides.”
He also said there were other plans that Eurovision’s organisers had not considered, which could involve some element of the contest being hosted in Ukraine. “We proposed quite interesting solutions. There were different options, as well with participation from other countries,” he said.
“I believe that there is a solution … Ukraine simply cannot be taken out from the hosting but can fully participate in it, in one or another way.”