After Ruslana won the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest in Istanbul with the song Wild Dances, attention turned to Ukraine and their preparations for the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest. The event was a significant opportunity for Ukraine since it provided the country with the chance to stage a major international event for the first time since independence. Hosting the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv took on even greater significance following the political protests which took place across the country at the end of 2004 which became known internationally as the Orange Revolution.
The political turmoil caused by the Orange Revolution meant that the preparations for the 2005 contest were seriously hindered. When the EBU’s then Executive Supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest, Svante Stockselius, visited Kyiv for a routine meeting in February 2005 he found that the preparations were seriously behind schedule. At this stage a Eurovision Song Contest held in Ukraine was looking less likely.
Stockselius warned the production team at NTU that he would have no option other than to move the event to another country unless significant progress was made. Stockselius was then taken to a meeting with President Viktor Yushchenko, where each member of the government was given specific responsibilities for the organisation of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Against the odds
NTU was given a tight deadline of two weeks to fulfil a list of demands. When the EBU returned to Kyiv they found that all the conditions had been met. Despite this, NTU and Ukraine still faced a significant challenge in preparing the city for such a large-scale international event to take place in a matter of weeks, against the backdrop of simmering media discourses of chaos. In an interview with the BBC, the presenter of the 2005 contest, Pavlo Shylko, admitted that the organisation of the event was proving to be a challenge:
We understand what we have to do, otherwise the prestige of the country which is starting to be built in Europe might go down…That’s why we’re working every day, 24 hours a day. Before the Olympic Games in Athens people said that nothing was ready. When I went there everything was ready and everything went well.
Despite the delays to the organisation of the contest, the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest was a success for NTU. At that time, in May 2005, the Eurovision Song Contest was the largest international event ever staged in Ukraine. When Ukraine last hosted the contest, there was no formal city bid process, which was first introduced in 2011, and NTU had little option other than to choose Kyiv to host the 2005 competition. These days things are different; Ukraine’s infrastructure is vastly improved compared to just over ten years ago, undoubtedly Euro 2012 largely contributed to that.
A lasting legacy
Hosting Eurovision in 2005 meant that there were significant changes to legislation for visitors to Ukraine from the EU. Visa restrictions were lifted for EU nationals from 1 May 2005 and this is still in place today, a lasting legacy of the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest.
The current city bid process has demonstrated that there is a real appetite for the Eurovision Song Contest in Ukraine. NTU and the EBU are aware of the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. If there’s one country that can rise to the occasion it’s Ukraine.