EU rule sounds choir's death knell

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The Independent Online
One of the best professional male voice choirs in the world is in danger of folding because European legislation is forcing Britain to charge citizens of the former Soviet Union an entry visa fee.

The Revutsky Choir, based in Kiev, has been gradually losing the subsidies it received from the former Communist regime since the government of Ukraine declared independence five years ago. In an effort to make good the shortfall, choir members have been undertaking an annual concert tour of Britain as the Boyan Ensemble to raise money.

When they applied for their visas at the British embassy in Kiev for this year's tour, however, the 27 singers, their tour manager and two coach drivers were told they would have to pay a fee for the first time. The charges amount to only pounds 33 a head, but because of Ukraine's fragile economy this is equivalent to 75 per cent of the singers' monthly wages.

As the ensemble arrived in Britain this week to begin their latest tour to coincide with the 5th anniversary of the Ukraine's independence, their agent in Britain warned that the unexpected bill might put the choir out of business. "This tour is literally a lifeline for them and if they do not make enough money there is a very real danger this distinguished choir will cease to exist," said Margarete Rolle. "A sum of pounds 1,000 for the whole party may not seem very much to westerners, but it is an enormous amount for Ukrainians who are paid a pittance."

The current tour, which takes in 13 concert dates before the end of the month, is a far cry from the days when the Revutsky flew all over the world as cultural ambassadors for the Soviet Union. The singers have to rely on the good will of British well-wishers for free board and lodging and their concerts are in churches, schools and halls in such centres as Ipswich, Malmesbury, and Bridlington.

The Foreign Office said Britain and the former USSR used to have a reciprocal agreement under which each other's nationals were not charged for entry visas. This has now had to be scrapped with plans for a common EU visa. "We have had to fall into line with the rest of Europe," said a spokesman. "It is as simple as that."