On Sunday, Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest with an exciting hip-hop melody, riding a wave of fan enthusiasm across Europe.
With Stefania, a rap lullaby blending Ukrainian folk and current beats from a breakdancing band, Kalush Orchestra topped 24 contestants in the final of the world’s biggest live music event.
“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol. Help Azovstal right now,” frontman Oleh Psiuk said in English from the stage after the group’s performance was met by a cheering audience.
Psiuk, who is readily recognizable because of his bubblegum pink bucket hat, thanked everyone who voted for his country in the tournament after winning.
“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk said.
The UK came in second with Sam Ryder’s Space Man with its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with Chanel’s reggaeton SloMo.
At the kitschy, wacky annual musical festival, Ukraine defeated a slew of over-the-top performers, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while wearing yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned government healthcare while methodically cleansing her hands onstage.
“Only at Eurovision do people celebrate bananas, heartbreaks, and handwashing in the same show,” Swedish fan Martina Fries said ahead of the final on Saturday.
“Eurovision is a way to show that different countries can celebrate peacefully together.”
The fun of Eurovision is in the theatrics, despite the three-month-long conflict in Ukraine looming over the event. The event’s organizers, the European Broadcasting Union, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbor.
Kalush Orchestra’s Stefania, written before the conflict, combines traditional Ukrainian folk music played on odd flute-like instruments with an energizing hip-hop beat and wistful lyrics about the motherland.
President Volodymyr Zelensky congratulated the team on winning the competition. “Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.
Because men of fighting age are barred from leaving Ukraine, Kalush Orchestra gained special permission from the Ukrainian government to attend Eurovision, but that permission expires in two days.
As the fighting raged back home, Psiuk claimed he wasn’t sure what awaited the band. “Like every other Ukrainian, we are prepared to fight to the last end.”
Hold Me Closer by Cornelia Jakobs from Sweden, Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord’s melancholy Die Together from Greece, and Mahmood and Blanco’s gay-themed duet Brividi (Shivers) from Italy were among the other Eurovision hopefuls.
Last year, high-octane glam rockers Maneskin won the competition with their song Zitti e Buoni (“Shut up and Behave”), which they performed during Saturday night’s finals.
The winner of Eurovision is chosen by a panel of music industry professionals – and the general public – from each country, with no voting for one’s own country allowed.
Britain had hoped to have a winner in Space Man, with its high notes blasted by Ryder, after a quarter-century of being shut out of the top spot.
After votes from national juries were tabulated, Britain was in the lead, but a staggering 439 points awarded by the people propelled Ukraine to the top.
Sheldon Riley of Australia, one of Eurovision’s few non-European competitors, performed his self-affirmation ballad, Not the Same, while wearing a shimmering face veil packed with crystals.
Eurovision winner heads home to join Ukrainian army
The winner of last night’s Eurovision song contest, Kalush Orchestra‘s frontman, kissed his lover goodbye before joining the frontlines of Ukraine’s ongoing conflict against Russia.
Oleg Psiuk, the frontman of the folk rap group, was seen embracing his girlfriend Oleksandra outside his Turin hotel today as he prepared to defend Ukraine against President Vladimir Putin.
Psiuk’s possessions were packed into a Taxi ready to drive to the airport, wearing his distinctive pink cap and carrying a bag.
After an outpouring of support from the European people propelled Ukraine to victory, President Zelensky promised last night that Eurovision would be held in Mariupol next year.
The war-torn country received 631 points, while the United Kingdom received 466. Spain came in third with 459 points, while Sweden came in fourth with 438.
Despite the city being besieged by Russian forces, Volodymyr Zelensky was eager to praise the victory and even promised to organize next year’s championship in Mariupol.