Ukrainian electronic music duo Tvorchi's song 'Heart of Steel' is inspired by the Azovstal steelworks siege

Liverpool (AFP) - The UK government on Friday hit out at European broadcasters for banning a message by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at this weekend’s Eurovision final, for fear of politicising the event.

The English city of Liverpool is hosting Saturday’s musical extravaganza on behalf of last year’s winner, Ukraine, due to the Russian invasion and has decked out its streets in yellow and blue.

But the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) said “strict rules” prevented it from granting the Ukrainian leader’s request to speak by video, arguing the contest is “non-political”.

“The prime minister believes it would be fitting for President Zelensky to address the event, and we’re disappointed by the decision from the European Broadcasting Union,” Rishi Sunak’s spokesman said.

“The values and freedoms that President Zelensky and the people of Ukraine are fighting for are not political, they’re fundamental.

“Eurovision themselves recognised that last year when they rightly suspended Russia’s participation from the competition,” he added, while declining to say if the UK would intervene with the BBC, the host broadcaster.

Organisers of the songfest may want to avoid politics but some of the performers have clearly taken inspiration from current events.

Ukraine’s entry by electronic music group Tvorchi, “Heart of Steel”, was inspired by the nearly month-long resistance put up by Ukrainian fighters at Mariupol’s besieged Azovstal steelworks.

- Home of The Beatles -

One of Liverpool's Superlambanana statues by artist Taro Chiezo has been decked out in the colours of Ukraine

Croatia’s song, “Mama SC!” by the mustachioed Let 3, is a thinly veiled attack on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Switzerland’s singer Remo Forrer has opted for a more traditional message of peace with his entry “Watergun”.

There are also the annual accusations of vote-trading among friendly countries, but BBC co-presenter Rylan Clark defended the event.

“I just think Eurovision, people say it is political -– votes here, votes there. From being on the inside it is the least political experience you could ever have, actually,” he said.

Britain’s former prime minister Boris Johnson – an early supporter of Ukraine during his premiership – also waded in, saying “it would have been right to hear from President Zelensky”.

“There is only one reason the contest is not in Ukraine and that is because of Putin’s illegal war,” he wrote on social media.

Zelensky told the BBC this week that notwithstanding his “great respect” for the UK, he would have preferred Eurovision to take place in a neighbouring country, so Ukrainians could attend.

Croatia's entry by rock band Let 3 is a thinly veiled attack on Russia's Vladimir Putin

Liverpool – home of The Beatles – and the BBC have gone all out to pay tribute to Ukraine in events leading up to this weekend’s climax of the annual songfest, which will feature 26 countries.

As part of events around Eurovision, the port city has unveiled a monument designed to be a “symbol of hope” for Ukraine.

The aluminium statue of a man holding up a book, from which a dove takes flight trailing a Ukrainian flag, is in Strawberry Field, the garden surrounding The Salvation Army children’s home that gave its name to the Beatles’ psychedelic hit.

- Superpower -

“It means a lot,” said Ukrainian fashion designer Liudmyla Kaminski of the colours around the city.

Scarves are on sale with messages including “Ukraine is my superpower” and “I thought I knew what bravery is but then I saw Ukraine”.

The nightingale is the national bird of Ukraine and a symbol of song and happiness

Saturday’s final is set to include a special tribute to Ukraine, with 11 of its artists performing including last year’s winner Kalush Orchestra.

Video clips will be shown during the evening to showcase different parts of the country.

The full line-up of the grand final was revealed following a second knockout round on Thursday.

The final 10 spots went to Albania, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovenia.

Ten countries had already qualified from Tuesday’s semi-final: Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Israel, Moldova, Norway, Portugal, Serbia, Sweden and Switzerland.

Along with Ukraine, they will join the EBU’s five biggest contributors, which qualify automatically for the final: Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.