Ukraine wins the Eurovision Grand Prix and many hearts

When Ukrainian music outfit Kalush Orchestra took the stage on the night of May 14 at Turin’s PalaOlimpico, the largest indoor sporting arena in Italy, with a folk-rap ode to founder and frontman Oleh Psuik’s mother who lives in Kalush, a 65-year-old music competition and what began as a bonding drill for Europe, turned into more than just a representation of pop music. Stephania, the Orchestra’s piece became much more than just a song. It was a powerful statement that won the highly-anticipated 66th Eurovision, the world’s largest music competition.

The song described the story of a mother and one’s journey home but was just as easily a battle cry, full of heart-wrenching emotions, from the five men on stage who were there despite and because of their country’s ravaged condition. The song, with visuals of a woman’s sunken and weeping eyes, became a compelling moment for those watching all over the world. For the draught but fierce Ukrainians fighting a war to res the invasion Russian President Putin, it was a much-needed shot in the arm.
Oleh Psiuk, frontman of Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra, signs autographs before leaving Universo Hotel, after winning the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
As the lights went up, five Ukrainians – rapper Psiuk, multi-instrumental Ihor Didenchuk, dancer Vlad Kurochka, vocals Tymofii Muzychuk, Vitalii Duzhyk and Dzhonni Dyvnyy — stood on stage and sang their hearts out in an attempt to seek solidarity from the world. And solidarity and a lot of affection is what they were awarded, despite being lower in the rank order in terms of music.
Even in the jury rating, which forms 50 per cent of the score, Ukraine found itself placed fourth, behind some formidable performances the UK and Spain. Though musically Ukraine was not superior, it is the context in which they performed that made them more than just deserve this year’s Eurovision. The band was propelled to victory from their fourth place a massive and emphatic outpouring of the public vote, from home and all over the continent, that gave the war-torn country a victory to lift the morale of the nation.

After the win, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that he hoped that the next year’s final would take place in Mariupol, the Ukrainian port city that has suffered some of the most ruthless attacks of Russian invasion. “Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe… We will do our best to one day host the participants and guests of Eurovision in Ukrainian Mariupol. Free, peaceful, rebuilt! I am sure our victorious chord in the battle with the enemy is not far off,” said Zelenskiy in a Telegram post.
Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine pose for photographers after winning the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest, in Turin, Italy, May 15, 2022. (REUTERS/Yara Nardi)
Post their win, the band also posted the song along with a video shot in the various destroyed cities of Ukraine. They stated: “Dedicated to the brave Ukrainian people, to the mothers protecting their children, to all those who gave their lives for our freedom…”
Eurovision has always been a fierce music competition and has always had strict rules about political statements. As per the European Broadcasting Union (EBU)’s rules, lyrics, speeches, or gestures, and any form of political propaganda are banned. However, the voting from the people and the songs one has heard from many countries have often had strong undertones of politics in the past.
Kalush Orchestra after winning the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest. (REUTERS/Yara Nardi)
Many countries have also been disqualified for direct references. In 2009, Georgia’s song appeared to be a criticism of Putin and followed the Russo-Georgian war, after which Georgia was removed from the contest. The controversy with Israel also found much attention in 2019, after famed American singer Madonna performed in Tel Aviv, albeit a bit off-key, with dancers wearing Palestinian and Israeli flags in the background and the singer imploring the people of the two countries for peace. In 2016, the Ukrainian song called 1944 won. Sung singer Jamala, the song was inspired the musician’s great grandmother’s experience during the ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide under Joseph Stalin in 1944. While Russian officials criticised the song and said that it violated the rules because of its political content, the song still won.

But this year, Eurovision took a political turn right when it barred Russia from the competition earlier this year, citing concerns about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and for their own reputation. Russia began participating in Eurovision in 1994, post some stability that was achieved after the political and economic crisis in the country. Russia on the cultural stage through Eurovision had helped restore its artic association with the world. It’s a country that has housed some of the finest musicians in the world. The snub from Eurovision, which is about all things glitzy and ostentatious apart from popul pop, became significant in the context of the current war. Ukraine’s win, that too a massive public vote amid a wave of goodwill and empathy, definitely showcased one thing — here is a country that is fighting a war, which is constantly under massive threats from rockets and missiles, so it matters when its people sing an ode to their motherland and showcase miraculous zealousness to win. Only this time it was a music competition.
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