The European Broadcasting Union, a grouping of national public broadcasters that runs Eurovision, said allowing Zelenskyy to participate would violate “the apolitical nature of the event.”
Zelenskyy’s request “to address the audience at the Eurovision Song Contest, although made with laudable intentions, unfortunately cannot be granted by the management of the European Broadcasting Union, as it would go against the rules of the event,” the organization said.
Zelenskyy’s spokesman, Sergii Nykyforov, denied that the president had asked to speak about the event, which will be viewed by some 160 million people.
“The office of the President of Ukraine did not approach the organizers of the Eurovision Song Contest to offer (Zelenskyy’s) online performance during the final or at any other stage of the contest,” he said on Facebook.
In the 15 months since Russia invaded, Zelenskyy has addressed dozens of global gatherings to advance his country’s cause.
He has spoken before legislatures around the world via video, and sometimes in person, and drew crowds at the Glastonbury music festival, the Grammy Awards and the Berlin Film Festival.
But he was reportedly denied permission to speak at the Academy Awards in March, and Ukraine says FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, also refused Zelenskyy’s request to send a video message to the World Cup in November 2022.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman Rishi Sunak said the UK government was “disappointed by the European Broadcasting Union’s decision”, although there are no plans to challenge it.
“The values and freedoms that President Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine are fighting for are not political, they are fundamental,” said Max Blain, a spokesman for Sunak.
Founded in 1956 to help heal a war-torn continent, Eurovision strives to keep pop and politics separate. Overtly political letters, signs and symbols are prohibited.
But politics cannot be completely excluded. Russia was excluded from the contest after it invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
Belarus had been expelled the previous year over its government’s crackdown on dissent.
Last year’s contest was won by Ukraine, with the UK stepping in as host on their behalf.
Acts from 26 countries will compete in Saturday’s live final at the Liverpool Arena, which will be co-hosted by Ukrainian singer Julia Sanina.
It will feature last year’s Eurovision winner, the Kalush Orchestra, and other Ukrainian artists, with footage from Ukraine shown before each performance.
“We believe that this is the best way to reflect and celebrate Ukraine’s victory in the Eurovision Song Contest and show that we are united by music during these difficult times,” the broadcasting union said.
Tens of thousands of music fans from across Europe flocked to Liverpool, which won a competition between UK cities to host the contest.
The birthplace of The Beatles has been in the festive spirit, with pubs and venues across the city hosting Eurovision parties and a multinational fan zone featuring performances by Eurovision stars past and present.
Organizers say they have taken steps to ensure telephone and online voting are not disrupted by cyberattacks, working with the UK’s National Center for Cyber Security to bolster the event’s defences.
Martin Green, the BBC’s managing director of the event, said preparations were “in a really good place”, although he did not give details of security arrangements.