Ukrainian rap and folk group Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday, as European viewers and juries gave token pop culture endorsement of solidarity with Ukraine in its defense against the invasion of Russia.
After 80 days of fighting that forced millions from their homes, wreaked havoc on towns and villages in eastern Ukraine and killed tens of thousands, the group has won an emotional victory. for Ukraine with an interpretation of “Stefania”, a catchy and anthemic song. Written in honor of the band leader’s mother, Oleh Psiuk, the song has been reinterpreted since the start of the war as a tribute to Ukraine as a homeland.
The song includes lyrics that roughly translate to “You can’t take my will from me, like I got it from her” and “I’ll always find my way back, even if the roads are destroyed”.
Kalush Orchestra had been considered a favorite, traveling with special permission to circumvent a martial law preventing most Ukrainian men from leaving the country, according to Suspilne, Ukraine’s public broadcasting company. This week, the group raised an audience in the semi-finals in Turin, Italy.
The group’s victory over 40 other national acts illustrated how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine united Europe, inspiring a wave of arms deliveries and aid to Ukraine, bringing countries like the Sweden and Finland out of NATO and bringing the European Union to the verge of cutting itself off from Russian energy.
And it underscored how radical Russia’s estrangement from the international community has become, extending from foreign ministries to financial markets and the realm of culture. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, organizers banned Russian performers from participating in the event, fearing that Russia’s inclusion would damage the competition’s reputation.
Eurovision, the world’s biggest and perhaps quirkiest live music competition, is best known for its over-the-top performances and star-making potential – it helped launch artists like Abba and Celine Dion to international fame. But as a showcase to promote European unity and cultural exchange, it has never really been separated from politics, although contest rules prohibit contestants from making political statements at the event.
In 2005, Ukraine’s entrance song was rewritten after 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,” the rabbis accused her of flouting the values of the Jewish state.
Ukraine also won the competition in 2016 with “1944”, a song by Jamala about the Crimean Tatars during World War II. It has also been interpreted as a commentary on the Russian invasion of Crimea, which took place two years earlier.
And in 2008, when Dima Bilan, a Russian pop star, won Eurovision with the song “Believe”, President Vladimir V. Putin hastened to congratulate him, thanking him for further improving the image of Russia.
Russia began participating in the singing competition in 1994 and has competed more than 20 times. His participation had been something of a cultural touchstone for Russia’s engagement with the world, persisting even as relations soured between Mr Putin’s government and much of Europe.
Ahead of Saturday’s final, several bookmakers said Ukraine were the clear favorites to win. Winners are determined based on votes from national juries and home viewers.
The war necessitated further adjustments. The show’s Ukrainian commentator, Timur Miroshnychenko, broadcast from an air raid shelter. A photo posted by Suspilne showed the veteran presenter at a desk in a bunker-like room, surrounded by computers, wires, a camera and weathered walls that revealed brick slabs below. We didn’t know what city he was in.
The bunker had been prepared to avoid disruption from air raid sirens, Mr Miroshnychenko told BBC Radio 5 Live. He said Ukrainians love the contest and “try to catch any peaceful moment” they can.
“Nothing is going to interrupt the broadcast of Eurovision,” he said.
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