Ukraine wins Eurovision Song Contest in wave of goodwill after Russian invasion

The band’s song “Stefania”, written about the frontman’s mother, beat out competition from major rivals from the UK and Spain when competing in the Italian city of Turin.

The event marked the first major cultural event Ukrainians have taken part in since the invasion of Russia in February, and many spectators waved the blue and yellow national flag of Ukraine during the evening.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised Kalush Orchestra in an Instagram post just seconds after his 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 the previous year’s contest must host the contest, he said: “Next year, Ukraine will host Eurovision! For the third time in its history. And, I believe, not the last. We will do our best to one day welcome Eurovision participants and guests to Ukrainian Mariupol. 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 that was annexed by Russia in 2014, as a possible location.

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

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

The event in Turin saw many of the elaborate, camp performances that have become a hallmark of Eurovision. A Norwegian entry from electro duo Subwoofer warned that hungry animals were eating the singers’ grandparents, while Serbia’s Konstrakta pondered Meghan, Duchess of Sussex’s hair secret.

But fans rallied as they entered Ukraine and the band received one of the loudest cheers of the evening when they took the stage.

In a bar in the center of kyiv, not far from the famous Saint Sophia cathedral with its golden roof, a small Eurovision viewing party was taking place on Saturday evening. Max Tolmachov, the owner of the Buena Vista bar, said people who came to the bar were keen to show their support for Ukraine, even though Eurovision wasn’t exactly their thing.

Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra celebrates after winning the Eurovision Song Contest.

“They want to show their patriotic spirit. This war has been very hard on people and it’s an opportunity to put dark thoughts aside a bit,” he told CNN.

His bar also played a role in the Ukrainian resistance. At the height of the battle for kyiv, a military checkpoint was placed just ahead. “Soldiers came to rest, we cooked for them — borscht, soups, meat, potatoes, there wasn’t much choice back then,” he said. .

Max Tolmachov stands outside his bar in Kyiv on Saturday May 14.

While many were delighted to see Ukraine win the contest, no big celebrations took place in the capital on Saturday. A strict curfew which begins at 10 p.m. local time, at the same time as the Eurovision broadcast, meant that people could not return home once the parties were over.

Tolmachov had a plan, however: his staff agreed to stay the night so that customers could party until the early hours.

This year’s Eurovision was held in Italy after punk rock band Maneskin won last year. It was the first Eurovision final to take place without major Covid restrictions since the start of the pandemic; the 2020 edition was canceled and last year’s crowd restrictions and some remote performances.

Kalush Orchestra initially finished second in the Ukrainian national selection competition, but was elevated after it emerged that the winner had already traveled to Russia’s annexed Crimea. The group was unveiled when entering the country on February 22, two days before Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

Ivana Kottasova reported from Kyiv. Rob Picheta wrote in London. Tim Lister and Oleksandra Ochman contributed to this report.

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