TURIN, AUSTRIA — The Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision Song Contest, demonstrating widespread public support for the group’s war-torn country.
The band and its song “Stefania” won the competition’s grand final early Sunday, defeating 24 other acts. The public vote from home, through text message or the Eurovision app, was vital in propelling them ahead of British TikTok sensation Sam Ryder, who had taken the lead after national juries in 40 nations had submitted their votes.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy congratulated Ukraine on its third Eurovision triumph since its debut in 2003. He claimed that “we will try our best” to organise the competition next year in Mariupol, a devastated port city that is nearly entirely held by Russian soldiers.
“Ukrainian Mariupol,” Zelenskyy emphasised in describing the city, adding, “free, peaceful, reconstructed!”
“I am confident that our victory in the struggle with the enemy is not far away,” Zelenskyy said in a Telegram message.
Oleh Psiuk, the frontman of the Kalush Orchestra, used the massive global audience (more than 180 million last year) to make an impassioned plea to free combatants still trapped beneath a huge steel plant in Mariupol.
“Help Azovstal right now,” Psiuk pleaded after his triumphant performance, addressing from beneath a colourful bucket hat that has become synonymous with the band among fans.
People may help by “sharing awareness, talking out this, reaching out to governments to help,” he later said at a press conference.
The 439 fan votes represent the highest number of televote points ever obtained in the 66th Eurovision Song Contest. “Everyone around the world who voted for Ukraine,” Psiuk said, “the victory is incredibly essential to Ukraine.” Particularly this year.”
Psiuk wrote “Stefania” as a homage to his mother, but it has since become an anthem for the nation, with lyrics like “I’ll always find my way home, even if all roads are destroyed,” which promise: “I’ll always find my way home, even if all roads are destroyed.”
Kalush Orchestra is a cultural endeavour that brings together folklore experts and combines traditional folk music with current hip hop to promote Ukrainian culture. This has grown even more important since Russia has attempted to falsely argue that Ukraine’s culture is not unique through its invasion.
“We’re here to convey that Ukrainian culture and music are alive and well, and that they have their own distinct identity,” Psuik told journalists.
The appeal to Russians to release the last Ukrainian combatants imprisoned beneath the Azovstal facility served as a solemn reminder that the enormously popular and at times flashy Eurovision song contest was taking place against the backdrop of a conflict on Europe’s eastern flank.
From the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the facility, the Azov battalion, which is among the factory’s remaining 1,000 defenders, offered their appreciation over Telegram: “Thank you for your support, Kalush Orchestra!” Ukraine, bravo!”
As Russia strives to secure a land bridge between separatist-controlled Donbas and Crimea, which it invaded in 2014, the city has seen some of the worst destruction of the two-and-a-half-month conflict.
The all-male band, which consists of six members, was granted special permission to leave the country in order to promote Ukraine and Ukrainian culture at the music competition. One of the founding members has stayed to fight, and the rest will return to Ukraine in two days when their temporary leave visa expires.
Before traveling to Italy, Psiuk was running a volunteer organization he set up early in the war that uses social media to help find transportation and shelter for people in need.
“It is hard to say what I am going to do, because this is the first time I win Eurovision,” Psuik said. “Like every Ukrainian, I am ready to fight and go until the end.”
While the support for Ukraine in the song contest was ultimately overwhelming, the contest remained wide open until the final popular votes were tallied. And war or not, fans from Spain, Britain and elsewhere entering the PalaOlimpico venue from throughout Europe were rooting for their own country to win.
Iryna Lasiy, a Ukrainian music aficionado, said she felt global solidarity for her nation during the war, and not just because of the music.
After its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Russia was barred from the competition, which organisers said was done to keep politics out of the competition that encourages variety and friendship among nations.
Kalush Orchestra’s participation in Eurovision is considered as offering Ukraine another platform to gather worldwide support in the ravaged northern city of Kharkiv.
“The entire country is rising, and the entire globe is behind us.” Julia Vashenko, a 29-year-old teacher, stated, “This is absolutely wonderful.”
“I believe that wherever Ukraine is now and there is an opportunity to talk about the war, we should discuss,” she stated “Alexandra Konovalova, a 23-year-old Kharkiv make-up artist, agreed. “Any tournaments are vital now because they allow more people to learn about current events.”
Ukrainians in Italy used the Eurovision Song Contest as the setting for a flashmob this week to call for assistance for Mariupol. About 30 Ukrainians gathered at a bar in Milan to watch the broadcast, many of whom were wearing a colourful bucket hat similar to the one worn by Psiuk to show their support for the band.
“We are overjoyed that he requested assistance in saving the people of Mariupol,” “During the show, lawyer Zoia Stankovska stated. “Oh, the joy this triumph provides!”
Although Kalush Orchestra’s primary concern is peace, the victor receives a glass microphone prize and a potential career boost.
Italy hosted the event after local rock band Maneskin won in Rotterdam last year. The victory catapulted the Rome-based band to international acclaim, with them opening for the Rolling Stones and making appearances on Saturday Night Live and on the covers of various magazines in their gender-bent attire.
This week, twenty bands were picked in two semifinals to compete alongside the Big Five of Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Spain, who have permanent seats because to their financial support of the competition.
Timur Miroshnichenko, a Ukrainian commentator who conducts the live voiceover for Ukraine’s Eurovision show, was broadcasting from a basement in an undisclosed location rather than his usual TV studio.
“They shot our TV tower in Kyiv on the fifth or fourth day of the fighting,” he claimed. “We had to move underground somewhere in Ukraine” to maintain broadcasting.
He stated that broadcasting Eurovision in Ukraine, both online and on television, was crucial.
“I think it’s more symbolic this year than ever before,” Miroshnichenko added.
“Thanks to the Armed Forces of Ukraine and our people’s resistance,” he stated, Ukraine was able to compete in the music competition.