Ukraine wins Eurovision Song Contest in wave of goodwill after invasion by Russia


Kiev, Ukraine
CNN

Ukrainian folk rap group Kalush Orchestra has won this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, surfing on a wave of goodwill from European countries to take the country’s third win at the glitzy event.

The band’s song “Stefania”, written about the frontman’s mother, beat the competition from main rivals the United Kingdom and Spain during the competition in the Italian city of Turin.

The event was the first major cultural event Ukrainians have participated in since Russia invaded in February, with many in the audience waving Ukraine’s blue and yellow national flag in the evening.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised Kalush Orchestra in an Instagram post just seconds after the victory was announced.

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he said in the post.

Alluding to the rule that a winner of last year’s contest gets to host the contest, he said: “Next year Ukraine will host the Eurovision Song Contest! For the third time in its history. And, I believe, not the last. We will do our best to one day receive Eurovision participants and guests in Mariupol, Ukraine. Free, peaceful, rebuilt!”

Tamile Tasheva, the Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine in Crimea, suggested Yalta, a seaside resort on the southern coast of Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, as a possible site.

Kalush Orchestra performing during rehearsals.

The country’s entry ‘Stefania’, sung in Ukrainian, pays tribute to frontman Oleg Psyuk’s mother, who still lives in the western city of Kalush, from which the band takes its name. “Some days, rockets fly over people’s homes and it’s like a lottery — nobody knows where it will hit,” Psyuk told CNN this week before his appearance.

“Right now, our country and culture are under threat. But we want to show that we are alive, the Ukrainian culture is alive; it is unique, diverse and beautiful.”

The Turin event saw some of the elaborate and camp performances that have become the hallmark of Eurovision. A Norwegian submission by electro duo Subwoolfer warned of hungry animals eating the singers’ grandparents, while Serbian Konstrakta meditated on Meghan’s secret, the hair of the Duchess of Sussex.

But fans rallied behind Ukraine’s entry, and the band received one of the loudest acclaim of the night as they took the stage.

A small Eurovision viewing party took place on Saturday night in a bar in the center of Kiev, not far from the famous golden-roofed Saint Sophia Cathedral. Max Tolmachov, the owner of the Buena Vista bar, said that people who came to the bar were eager to show their support for Ukraine, even if Eurovision wasn’t really their thing.

Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine celebrates after winning the Eurovision Song Contest.

“They want to show their patriotic spirit. This war has been very hard on people and this is an opportunity to put the dark thoughts aside for a while,” he told CNN.

His bar also played a role in Ukraine’s resistance. During the height of the Battle of Kiev, a military checkpoint was positioned right in front of it. “The soldiers came in to get some rest, we cooked them food – borscht, soups, meat, potatoes, there wasn’t much choice then,” he said.

Max Tolmachov will be standing in front of his bar in Kiev on Saturday 14 May.

While many were delighted to see Ukraine’s victory in the match, no major celebrations took place in the capital on Saturday. A strict curfew starting at 10pm local time, in parallel with the Eurovision broadcast, meant people couldn’t go home once the parties were over.

However, Tolmachov had a plan: His staff agreed to stay all night so customers could party into the wee hours.

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest took place in Italy after a victory for punk rock band Maneskin last year. It was the first Eurovision final that took place without major Covid restrictions since the start of the pandemic; the 2020 edition was canceled and last year’s audience restrictions and some remote performances.

Kalush Orchestra initially finished second in Ukraine’s national selection competition, but was raised after it was revealed that the winner had previously traveled to Russia-annexed Crimea. The group was unveiled as the country’s entry on February 22, two days before Russian forces invaded Ukraine.

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