7 Captivating Russian Eurovision Moments

Dima Bilan Eurovision 2008
Dima Bilan Eurovision 2008 | © Daniel Aragay / Wikicommons
Zita Whalley

Not a Eurovision goes by without some degree of controversy, stand-out performance or surprising creative decision – it’s all part of the contest’s appeal. And Russia has had its fair share of eye-popping moments on Europe’s stage. From politics to dancing babushkas, to suspect costumes choices, here are seven moments when the spotlight shone on Russia the brightest.

2008: Victory with Dima Bilan

Dima Bilan took the title for the first time in Belgrade with his power ballad Believe. For the crown, Bilan brought out Olympic gold medalist and world figure skating champion Evgeni Plushenko and violinist aficionado Edvin Marton. But it wasn’t the pop star’s first attempt at fighting for the win. In 2006 Bilan came in at second place with his performance of Never Let You Go, complete with ballet back up dancers and another ballet dancer hidden away inside a baby grand, covered by a lot of rose petals.

2009: Russia hosts Eurovision

Earning the right to host Eurovision, the world tuned into Moscow in 2009. While Russia was well behaved, other countries were not. Georgia withdrew from the contest because Eurovision officials refused the lyrics to their entry We Don’t Want to Put in. The song refers to Prime Minister Putin and the armed conflict between the two nations in 2008 that killed 228 Georgian civilians. Germany also caused controversy by wheeling out burlesque icon Dita von Teese during their act, which drew complaints regarding unfair advantages and von Teese’s revealing outfit.

2012: Dancing Babushkas

Buranovskiye Babushki won over the audience and the internet with their infectious disco polka jig, Party For Everybody at Baku’s Eurovision in 2012, and won Russia second place. The women come from Buranovo, a small village in Udmurtia, a republic in the central Volga region. They came to be known in Russia in 2008 for covering contemporary Russian and western bands such as Kino, Aquarium The Beatles and Queen, in a traditional styling. At the time of performing the eldest member of the group was 76 years old and the youngest was 44.

2014: The bond between sisters

It has been said twins do have a special bond, but it’s not usually their hair. In a memorable styling decision, the Tolmachevy twins came out on stage to belt out their tune Shine, with their hair woven together. Having already won a junior Eurovision, the 17-year-olds walked out onto centre stage in Copenhagen to boos that weren’t for their fashion sense. Unfortunately for the girls, their presence at this music event reminded the audience that Russia had recently enforced some severe anti-gay legislations, despite the sisters singing about inclusivity.

2016 Crimean Politicking

Political tensions boiled over again in Stockholm’s 2016 contest when Ukraine took out the Eurovision glory, to Russia’s objection. The nation’s entry, Jamala’s (aka Susana Jamaladynova) sang about the Soviet mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars into Central Asia in 1944, during WWII and the Russian military interference and annexation of Crimea in 2014. A Crimean Tatar herself, Jamala commemorated the past brutality inflicted on her people despite a Eurovision ban on any political gesture, speech or lyric, which Russia unsuccessfully argued nullified the song.

2017: Ukranian ban on Russia

After winning the right to host in 2016, Ukraine refused Russia’s contestant, Yulia Samoilova, entry into the country citing an unauthorised visit to Crimea as the reason. Since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the Russia-supported military uprising, the two nations have been locked in conflict, which bubbled up onto centre stage. The Ukraine Security Service slapped a three-year travel ban on the singer just weeks before she was set to compete and stripped her of the opportunity to perform Flame is Burning. As a response, Russia dropped the programme from its schedule that year.

2018: Yulia Samoilova’s semi-final elimination

For the first time in 20 years, Russia was knocked out of the competition in Portugal’s 2018 Eurovision during the second semi-final stage. The nation lost out to Serbia, Moldova, Hungary, Ukraine, Sweden, Australia, Norway, Denmark, Slovenia and the Netherlands. It was not the comeback Russia had anticipated and it was an unfortunate blow for the Yulia Samoilova, who was banned from competition the year before. The seasoned performer, who also sang at the 2014 Paralympics, was set to sing I Won’t Break, from the top of the projection of a mountain.

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