KIEV, Ukraine - A small Ukrainian nationalist party came under fire Wednesday after a high-profile member suggested a singer of African descent was a bad choice to represent the country in the Eurovision song contest.
Pop star Gaitana, 32, who was born in Kyiv to a Congolese father and Ukrainian mother, was chosen last week to represent Ukraine at this year's Eurovision contest in May in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Gaitana, known for a strong voice and seductive outfits, will represent Ukraine with the English-language hit "Be My Guest."
Yuri Sirotyuk, of the political party Svoboda, told the New Region agency on Monday that Gaitana was a bad choice because she was not authentically Ukrainian.
"Yes, Gaitana sings well, but she does not represent our culture," Sirotyuk was quoted as saying. "Eurovision must be a show of national talents."
"It looks like we don't want to show our face and Ukraine will be associated with a different continent, somewhere in Africa."
Svoboda is not represented in parliament, but has been gaining popularity recently.
Gaitana strongly condemned Sirotyuk's statement, saying it tarnishes Ukraine.
"I am very much ashamed for such racist statements, because they destroy Ukraine's reputation in front of the whole world," Gaitana told reporters. "We are doing everything we can so that Ukraine becomes a part of the European family, a part of the world, so that nobody would be afraid to come here and have children here."
Hanna Herman, an adviser to President Viktor Yanukovych, also spoke out against the statement, saying that Ukrainians should not be divided according to the colour of their skin, their faith or their language.
Ukraine's National Television, which held the contest where Gaitana was selected by a combined vote of viewers and jurors, demanded that Sirotyuk apologize to Gaitana.
Sirotyuk told The Associated Press that he has nothing to apologize for.