‘Russia can never erase Ukrainian culture’: inside Liverpool’s Eurovision resistance effort

2016 Ukraine winner Jamala will premiere a new album – JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP – as part of the EuroFestival

If you thought that Euro Vision Song Contest was just a souped up talent show on TV or an excuse to have cocktails on a Saturday night, think again. Host city Liverpool hosting the competition in May on behalf of war-torn Ukraine, has announced a dizzying two-week cultural program ahead of this year’s finale. The city’s mission: to present to the world the Ukrainian culture that Vladimir Putin’s invasion is so desperate to erase.

Dubbed EuroFestival, it will feature 24 artistic commissions scattered across Liverpool, 19 of which are collaborations between British and Ukrainian artists. Events include the world premiere of Ukraine’s 2016 Eurovision winner Jamala with a new album based on Crimean Tatar folk songs accompanied by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, English National Opera singing Eurovision hits, simultaneous raves in Liverpool and Kiev nightclubs , plays, art installations, pop-up libraries , sandbagged statues and film festivals. There will also be drag queen cabarets, a three-day LGBTQI+ festival at the festival called EuroCamp, and a parade with kazoo-playing seahorses and an eight-metre drumming octopus. What did you expect? It’s Eurovision after all.

Organizers have been working on the festival since October when Liverpool was announced as the host city on behalf of last year’s winner who, for obvious reasons, cannot host. You are proud of the offer. “We know we brag a bit in Liverpool, but we definitely overdid it,” says the city’s Mayor Joanne Anderson.

Claire McColgan, Director of Culture Liverpool, tells me it represents “an incredible international programme” of arts events. “You could put this in any biennial or festival in the world and it would stand alone, Eurovision or not,” she says, adding that the festival will also include Ukrainian-themed events in schools and nursing homes. “Those who still think of Eurovision as an event at the Beeb will be in complete shock – it’s two weeks in Liverpool.”

But the EuroFestival has a purpose that goes beyond fun and entertainment. Around 160 million viewers from around the world are expected to watch the Eurovision final on Saturday May 13, while 100,000 people are likely to visit Liverpool during the Eurovision period (which is estimated to bring in £250m to the local economy becomes). With the world’s eyes on the city, this is the perfect opportunity to showcase Ukraine’s cultural heritage in a way the country is currently unable to due to the Russian invasion.

Jamala from Ukraine, who will be performing as part of the EuroFestival in Liverpool

Jamala from Ukraine, who will be performing as part of the EuroFestival in Liverpool

Tetyana Filevska, creative director of the Ukrainian Institute, which worked on the festival’s content from a Ukrainian perspective, says the eradication of culture is a recognizable pattern of empires. “As we all know, this war is primarily aimed at Ukrainian culture. The Russians are targeting museums, libraries, theaters and monuments. The first thing they do when occupying territory is to erase all signs of Ukrainian culture,” says Filevska. “A few days ago we all had a chance to remember that [anniversary of the] Tragedy of the Mariupol Theater, where hundreds of people in the theater room were killed with a huge aerial bomb.

“It is important to pay attention to Ukrainian culture because it gives us the strength to resist Russian aggression. As long as Ukrainian culture is exposed, as long as it is celebrated and known to the world outside of Ukraine, Russia will never achieve its goal. It will never wipe Ukraine off the surface.”

EuroFestival therefore represents culture as resistance. A lot of it might be glittered with a big dab of Camp on the side, but it’s still resilient.

“In these dark times for Ukraine, presenting the new album in Liverpool is an essential mission for me,” says Jamala. “Just like the most precious memories of our lives, we value our culture as the most valuable treasure.”

This theme is repeated by Stuart Andrew, the Government’s Eurovision Minister. “This event should take place in Ukraine. Due to the illegal invasion and Putin’s attempt to practically wipe this country off the map, this is an opportunity for us to show 160 million how powerful it is that this city has stood up and is hosting it in the name of Ukraine. It will also showcase Ukraine’s important culture, which Putin is desperate to eradicate. And we will not allow that,” the minister tells me. “Ukrainian artists, who should be doing their usual artistic work, are fighting on the front lines. Athletes who should be preparing for the Olympics are fighting on the front lines. This is an opportunity for us to remind people how shocking this invasion is.”

Andrew knows the plight of Ukrainians firsthand – he has a mother and her 16-year-old son from Kiev who live with him. “They tell how they were suddenly woken up at four in the morning by bombs in Kiev,” he says. The father and an older son are still in Ukraine. “The son is fighting in the army, the husband is trying to keep the apartment running. There are long periods without electricity.”

One of the inflatable birds that will be distributed in Liverpool as part of the EuroFestival

One of the inflatable birds that will be distributed in Liverpool as part of the EuroFestival

So all this has a serious meaning. But what about the events themselves? Mayor Anderson says there’s something for everyone. The vibe is “accessible, joyful, thought-provoking, colourful, community-led, inclusive and free for all”. Eye-catching events include the flying of 900 hand-painted kites by British and Ukrainian children, and the placing of twelve giant, internally-lit inflatable birds in Liverpool, each representing a different region of Ukraine and decorated with Ukrainian embroidery, each playing music. Murals will appear across the city. There will be a contemporary opera called Chornobyldorf and an “immersive audio experience” called With Fire and Rage, which follows the stories of artists on the front lines in Ukraine, combining poetry, music, video and personal testimonies. The National Lottery is hosting a huge open air concert in the shadow of St George’s Hall.

The 9 May English National Opera does Eurovision concert will feature big costumes and link the Campery of Opera to Eurovision, explains ENO Managing Director Stuart Murphy. “We will bring together international opera stars with former Eurovision contestants to perform classical arrangements with our full world-class orchestra and choir,” says Murphy, although he doesn’t want to know which former Eurovision stars will be performing. However, the songs include ABBA’s Waterloo and the song Zero Gravity, which was Australia’s 2019 entry. The prospect of last year’s runner-up Sam Ryder smashing Space Man across Liverpool’s docks, backed by a full orchestra and opera chorus, would be something special.

Eurovision 2022 runner-up from Great Britain Sam Ryder - MARCO BERTORELLO

Eurovision 2022 runner-up from Great Britain Sam Ryder – MARCO BERTORELLO

At the more hedonistic end of the spectrum, Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle is becoming the ‘Eurozone’ after-hours district – much like Glastonbury’s late-night ‘Naughty Corner’ – complete with its own Eurovision nightclub at the Camp and Furnace. And the Rave UKraine event has the tagline “Two cities, one rave” – the content nightclub will host and live stream DJs simultaneously with a club in Kiev.

Andrew believes Liverpool are prepared for the additional influx of people. “We have a lot of plans to make sure people can come here,” he says. Even the minister is looking forward to what lies ahead. “My partner is a huge Eurovision fan and for the first time I think in my time as an MP he really cares about what I’m doing.” The King’s coronation falls in the middle of the EuroFestival weekend (and a week before the Eurovision final). The two weekends will show two different sides of Britain, says Andrew. “It will show us as a country that has all the traditions but at the same time has a great party,” he says.

Filevska says that Ukrainians like to party. “As soon as we win, we celebrate the win together,” she says. I think she’s talking about Eurovision, but she could be talking about the war as well.

For more information, see Visit liverpool.com

Source : news.yahoo.com

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