Ukrainian rap and folk band Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday, as European viewers and juries delivered a symbolic, pop culture affirmation of solidarity behind Ukraine in its defense against the Russian invasion.
After 80 days of fighting that forced millions from their homes, ravaged towns and villages in eastern Ukraine and killed tens of thousands, the band achieved an emotional victory for Ukraine with a performance of “Stefania,” a rousing anthemic song. Written in honor of the mother of the group’s frontman, Oleh Psiuk, the song has been reinterpreted since the beginning of the war as a tribute to Ukraine’s motherland.
The song has lyrics roughly translated as “You can’t take my willpower from me the way I got it from her” and “I’ll always find my way home even when the roads are ruined.”
According to Suspilne, the Ukrainian public broadcaster, Kalush Orchestra was considered a favorite and traveled with special permission to bypass a state of siege that prevented most Ukrainian men from leaving the country. This week, the band staged a semi-final audience in Turin, Italy.
The band’s victory over 40 other national acts illustrated how the Russian invasion of Ukraine has united Europe, inspiring a wave of arms and aid supplies for Ukraine, bringing countries like Sweden and Finland closer to NATO and the European Union on the cusp. has brought itself to cut itself off from Russian energy.
And it underlined how profound Russia’s alienation from the international community has become, from foreign ministries to financial markets to culture. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, organizers banned Russian performers from the event, fearing Russia’s participation would damage the competition’s reputation.
Eurovision, the world’s largest and possibly most eccentric live music competition, is best known for its over-the-top performances and its star-making potential – it helped bring acts like Abba and Celine Dion international exposure. But as a showcase intended to promote European unity and cultural exchange, it has never really been separated from politics, although the competition rules prohibit participants from making political statements during the event.
In 2005, Ukraine’s entry song was rewritten as it was deemed too political, as it celebrated the Orange Revolution. When Dana International, an Israeli transgender woman, won in 1998 with her hit song “Diva,” rabbis accused her of violating the values of the Jewish state.
Ukraine also won the competition in 2016 with “1944”, a song by Jamala about Crimean Tatars during World War II. It was also interpreted as a commentary on the Russian invasion of Crimea two years earlier.
And in 2008, when Dima Bilan, a Russian pop star, won the Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Believe”, President Vladimir V. Putin promptly weighed in with congratulations and thanked him for further polishing the Russian image.
Russia started participating in the song contest in 1994 and has participated more than 20 times. His participation had been a kind of cultural touchstone for Russia’s engagement with the world, and it persisted even as relations between Putin’s government and much of Europe deteriorated.
Ahead of Saturday’s final, several bookmakers had said Ukraine was by far the likely favorite to win. Winners are determined based on votes from national juries and home viewers.
War has required other adjustments. The Ukrainian commentator for the show, Timur Miroshnychenko, is broadcasting from a bomb shelter. A photo posted by Suspilne showed the veteran presenter sitting at a desk in a bunker-like room, surrounded by computers, wires, a camera and eroding walls revealing chunks of brick beneath. It was not clear which city he was in.
The bunker was prepared to avoid disturbances from air raid sirens, Mr Miroshnychenko told BBC Radio 5 Live. He said Ukrainians loved the match and “tried to capture every peaceful moment” they could.
“Nothing will interrupt the Eurovision broadcast,” he said.