‘Arnold Schwarzenegger invited us to his home’: Kalush Orchestra on the overwhelming response to their Eurovision victory | Eurovision 2022

SSince winning the Eurovision Song Contest this year, our lives have been filled with touring and creating new music, spreading Ukrainian culture around the world and highlighting the war in our country. Representing your country is always a huge responsibility, but especially at such a difficult time.

In Kalush Orchestra, we emphasize rap with folk motifs and Ukrainian authenticity, so it was important to us that we keep the lyrics of our song in Ukrainian. In the entire history of the contest, we had never heard of a rap group winning; we wanted to show that rap in combination with Ukrainian folklore is cool.

The reception since our Eurovision victory has been overwhelming. Last summer we performed at Glastonbury. It was the first time any of us had traveled to the UK so it was a surreal experience. We have now toured most of Europe and recently completed our first concert tour of North America. Almost all dates were completely sold out, and we even added extra dates in New York and Toronto.

In Los Angeles we met Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been actively supporting the Ukrainians since the beginning of the war. He invited us to his home and came out to greet us with a pet donkey. We talked about the situation in Ukraine and thanked him for his support and shared how important it was to us. It was a pleasure to meet such a legend; I grew up with his movies.

We display a QR code at all our concerts, which all attendees can use to donate to the official state fund for the preservation of Ukrainian culture. In all of our fundraisers to date, we have raised 54 million Ukrainian hryvnia (£1.2 million). At the end of May, we auctioned our Eurovision Song Contest winner’s trophy, raising $900,000 (£740,000) for the armed forces of Ukraine. And we ran a raffle for the pink bucket hat I wore on the winning night – 31,000 people entered and raised over 11 million hryvnia (£245,000). Using our platform as a means to end the war as soon as possible is our main motivation.

Whenever we hear news that Russian troops have fired missiles at Ukraine again, we immediately pick up our phones to call or write to our family and friends. Now we often cannot contact them because there is no light or power in the Ukrainian cities due to continuous shelling. We are very concerned about them.

All men of military age should be in Ukraine, ready to take up arms if necessary. We have special permission to leave because of our fundraising efforts, but every time we return to our country, we have to ask permission again. Everything we do, we do for Ukraine, and through our fundraising we believe we can make not only a cultural difference, but an economic difference as well. Although we do not fight on the battlefield, we believe that we are cultural soldiers for Ukraine. Russia is trying to erase our culture. We want to be proof that they could never do that.

As told to Safi Bugel

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