Ukraine’s goodwill to win Eurovision Song Contest after Russian invasion

The band’s song ‘Stefania’, about the frontman’s mother, beat arch rivals England and Spain in the Italian city Turin.

The event marked the first major cultural event attended by Ukrainians since the Russian invasion in February, with many spectators waving Ukraine’s blue and yellow flag at night.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised the Kalush Orchestra in an Instagram post seconds after declaring victory.

“Our courage has impressed the world and our music has conquered Europe!” he said in the post.

Referring to the rules that the winner of the previous year’s competition will host the competition, he said: “Next year Ukraine will host Eurovision! This is the third time in its history. And, I believe, not the last. We will do our best to It would be nice to host Eurovision participants and guests one day in Mariupol, Ukraine. Freedom, Peace, Reconstruction!”

The Ukrainian president’s permanent representative to Crimea, Tamir Tasheva, suggested the resort city of Yalta, on the southern coast of Crimea, on the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, as a possible location.

The country’s entry “Stefania” is sung in Ukrainian and is a tribute to frontman Oleg Psyuk’s mother, who still lives in the western city of Kalush, from which the band takes its name. “On some days, rockets fly over people’s houses, like a lottery ticket — and no one knows where it’s going to hit,” Psyuk told CNN this week ahead of 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 Turin event saw several elaborate camping shows that have become Eurovision icons. Electronic duo Subwoolfer’s Norwegian entry warned that hungry animals would eat up the singer’s grandparents, while Serbia’s Konstrakta mused on the secrets of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex’s hair.

But fans rallied after the Ukrainian entry, and when they took the stage, the band received one of the loudest cheers of the night.

In a bar in central Kyiv, not far from the city’s famous golden-roofed Hagia Sophia, a small Eurovision viewing party was taking place on Saturday night. Max Tolmachov, owner of the Buena Vista bar, said people who came to the bar were keen to show their support for Ukraine — even if Eurovision wasn’t their thing.

The Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine celebrates after winning the Eurovision Song Contest.

“They wanted to show their patriotism. This war was really hard for people, and it was an opportunity to put dark thoughts on hold,” he told CNN.

His bars also played a role in the Ukrainian resistance. At the height of the battle for Kyiv, a military checkpoint was located directly in front of it. “Soldiers would come in to rest and we were cooking for them – borsch, soup, meat, potatoes, and there wasn’t much choice,” he said.

Max Tolmachov stands in front of a bar in Kyiv on Saturday, May 14.

While many were happy to see Ukraine win the game, there were no big parties in the capital on Saturday. A strict curfew from 10pm local time, the same time as Eurovision, means people won’t be able to go home once the party is over.

Tolmachev had a plan, though—his employees agreed to stay overnight so customers could party until the wee hours.

This year’s Eurovision takes place in Italy, following last year’s win by punk rock band Maneskin. This is the first Eurovision final to be held without major Covid restrictions since the start of the pandemic; the 2020 edition was cancelled, last year’s featured crowd restrictions and some remote shows.

The Karush Orchestra initially finished second in Ukraine’s national selection competition, but was promoted after the winner had previously traveled to Russia-annexed Crimea. The group debuted as the country’s port of entry on February 22, two days before Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

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

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