One of the biggest singing competitions in Europe is getting in tune with the political tension between Russia and Ukraine this year.
Performers from the two countries will meet head to head on Saturday during the finale of the Eurovision Song Contest, the wildly popular, no-holds-bared annual singing match held between member countries of the European Broadcasting Union.
Russia’s Tolmachevy Sisters, a pair of 17-year-old twin singers from the city of Kursk, and Mariya Yaremchuk, a Ukrainian pop artist, are among the finalists who were chosen during the first round of semifinals on Tuesday night. The two acts will face off against finalists from several other countries, including Hungary, Iceland, Belgium, Sweden and Denmark. An additional batch of countries are set to be chosen on Thursday during the second semifinals.
The symbolic Russia-Ukraine face-off comes as violent conflicts continue to grip eastern Ukraine, with pro-Russia militias engaged in gun battles this week with Ukrainian troops who want to forge closer ties with Europe. Those escalating political tensions were underscored on Tuesday with the announcement that a Russian act had made the finals, which provoked a chorus of unruly boos from the audience, according to the Moscow Times. Conversely, when Ukraine’s candidacy was revealed, the audience reportedly broke out into boisterous cheers.
The Tolmachevy Sisters will sing the English-language version of their song “Shine,” a peppy pop number composed by Philipp Kirkorov, a Russian pop star, and Dimitris Kontopoulos, an acclaimed Greek composer. The teenagers first rose to fame in 2006, when they took the top prize for the Junior Eurovision Song Contest, according to the contest organizers. Ukraine’s Yaremchuk will sing her song “Tick Tock.”
The Eurovision Song Contest, a mash-up of “American Idol”-style theatrics and old-fashioned nationalism, attracts an estimated audience of 125 million viewers every year. The contest has helped launch the careers of such artists as ABBA and Celine Dion. The finals take place on Saturday in Copenhagen.
Watch the Tolmachevy Sisters’ perform their song “Shine” below.