A Ukrainian state orchestra’s important members were denied visas to perform in a sequence of shows in the UK this month. The promoter describes it as a “disastrous” situation that resulted in a loss of over €100,000 (£88,000). Scheduled to have two performances, the Khmelnitsky Orchestra planned to tour the UK this month with “The Magical Music of Harry Potter” and “The Music From the Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Rings of Power.”

The UK government website promoted the performances as a demonstration of the relationship between the UK and Ukraine. Following the Khmelnitsky Orchestra’s rendition of “The Magical Music of Harry Potter” in Belgium the previous year, Chloe Louter, the deputy British ambassador in Brussels, had praised the event, saying that it was “an incredible honour” to have a Ukrainian orchestra perform such an iconic piece of British culture.

Star Entertainment, the promoter, has alleged that the UK government is guilty of hypocrisy.

The UK government was uninterested in assisting the Ukrainian orchestra in obtaining visas for their performances in the UK, despite making a significant show of support for Ukraine.

Jaka Bizilj – CEO of Star Entertainment

Bizilj, who has worked on two film projects with Richard Curtis and with Bob Geldof on the Cinema for Peace Foundation, which helped evacuate Russian dissident Alexei Navalny from Siberia to Berlin in 2020, is well-known in the UK entertainment industry.

Visa Issues

Bizilj urged Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer to step down if the UK continues to treat foreign artists poorly, arguing that the UK’s ongoing immigration difficulties, faced by an increasing number of artists from abroad, are harming its citizens, culture, and relationship with Europe.

Post-Brexit bureaucracy is causing an increasing number of foreign artists to face difficulties entering the UK. Recently, Trigger Cut band (The German Noise Rock) has turned away at Calais after informing border officials that their day jobs were unrelated to music.

Bizilj has called for identifying and holding responsible those who are responsible for preventing artists and culture from entering the UK. He believes that bands, musicians, and orchestras are becoming reluctant to perform in the UK because of the possibility of being denied entry.

The Khmelnitsky Orchestra’s tour of the UK was set to begin with a performance in Portsmouth on April 1st. However, just a day prior, important members of the orchestra, including the conductor and four first violins, had yet to receive their visas. The Khmelnitsky Orchestra’s key members were unable to obtain visas, leaving them stranded in Paris for a week, waiting for the British embassy to issue their visas. Two days after the scheduled start date of their tour, they received information about the option to obtain emergency visas at a cost of €15,000.

Despite the promise of 24-hour “express” visas, they were not issued in time, according to Bizilj. He has accused the United Kingdom government of “holding the orchestra hostage” in Paris and claims that there was no valid reason for the refusal. He believes that the decision was simply a case of discriminatory treatment of Ukrainian artists.

Visa Issues

Bizilj claimed that Star Entertainment had to request an explanation from the British embassy in order to obtain the visas, as they intended to publish it in a press release for the media. However, this occurred too late for some of the orchestra’s initial concerts, including those scheduled in Portsmouth, the Lowry in Salford, and York Barbican.

UK-based musicians helped to perform the Portsmouth show at the last minute despite the absence of key members. However, due to the limited preparation time, they were unable to perform the full programme, and as a result, many members have asked for refunds.

The visa issues resulted in the postponement of the Lowry show to 2024 and the rescheduling of the York concert for later this month. Bizilj believes that the entire situation has cost the company approximately €100,000 in fees, hotel expenses, and damage to its reputation.

Musicians and performers are highly valued and essential components of UK culture. The country has attracted world-class entertainers and musicians from all over the world, which is why a dedicated immigration route for creative workers is offered. All visa applications are thoroughly evaluated based on their individual merits, in compliance with the immigration rules.

Government Spokesperson

The government spokesperson also mentioned that they strive to avoid delays in the processing of visa applications and will continue to improve their back-office function and capability to prevent such issues in the future.