Ukraine says Crimea visit by Bulgaria's Eurovision singer not illegal

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine said on Thursday a visit to Russian-annexed Crimea by Bulgaria’s Eurovision song contest entrant was apparently not illegal, avoiding a row that might have led to his disqualification and tainted the popular competition with fresh political controversy.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

A video widely shared on social networks and in Ukrainian media appears to show Bulgarian Kristian Kostov singing at a concert on Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula in June 2014, three months after it was seized by Russia.

Ukraine has already barred Russia’s contestant from entering the country because she had performed in Crimea without permission from Kiev after the annexation.

Forty-two countries are competing this year in Eurovision, an annual pageant of the colorful, the camp and the cheesy that in recent years has increasingly been drawn into politics. Ukraine’s Jamala won last year with a song about war-time deportations of Crimean Tatars by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Kostov, who at 17 is the youngest competitor this year, was taking part in the second semi-final on Thursday with his song ‘Beautiful Mess.’ The final takes place in Kiev on Saturday in front of a television audience of millions.

Ukraine’s border service said it and other state security agencies had not known about any visit by Kostov to Crimea when he entered Ukraine to take part in the competition. “We will study the information,” spokesman Oleh Slobodyan said.

In a later statement, the border service said: “We do not currently have information from our sources or any other law enforcement agencies that he may have visited the occupied peninsula contrary to the legislation of this country.”

It said Kostov would not have broken Ukrainian law if he visited Crimea as a minor and before legislation came into force banning foreigners from visiting the annexed territory without permission from Ukrainian authorities.

In a statement, the Bulgarian Eurovision delegation confirmed that Kostov had visited Crimea “for just a few hours” when he was 14 years old as part of a children’s musical group.

There was no immediate comment from Eurovision organisers.

The annexation of Crimea contributed to a collapse in relations between Russia and Ukraine in 2014.

Russian singer Dima Bilan, who won Eurovision in 2008, urged his 1.9 million Instagram followers on Thursday to vote for Kostov. “He represents Bulgaria, but he is our hero!” he said in a post.

Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Additional reporting by Margaryta Chornokondratenko; Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Mark Trevelyan