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Ukraine Strives for the Prize at Eurovision as War Continues at Home

No matter what happens on Saturday night at the Grand Final of the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy, Kalush Orchestra’s Oleh Psiuk won’t be celebrating much. Instead, he—and the four band members that make up Ukraine’s entry into the annual televised musical competition—will be preparing to head back to their country, where mandatory…

N no matter what happens Saturday night at the Grand Finale of the Eurovision Song Contest , Turin, Italy. Oleh Pasiuk, Kalush Orchestra, won’t be celebrating too much. Instead, he and the four members of Ukraine’s entry in the annual televised music competition will be returning to Ukraine, where they will have to comply with mandatory martial conscription laws.

Kalush Orchestra is right now the bookies’ safest bet to win the 66th edition of the contest as they compete against 25 countries with their song “Stefania,” a Ukrainian-folk-meets-hip-hop concoction that Psiuk wrote about his mother before the conflict broke out. Listeners have adopted it as an allegory of Mother Ukraine. Psiuk said, over Zoom (via a translator), that “after the war, many people seem to be finding new interpretations there,” on the penultimate night of the competition. The pink bucket hat has become his signature fashion statement. The visual contrasts with his demeanor, which is somber yet measured. “I hope Europe enjoys this song. My mom loves it. He says, chuckling for a second. “And I know that she’s now using it as her ringtone on the phone.” “The enemy wants to destroy our culture. We are here to show that we exist and that we have the right to be seen. We are worthy to be heard. We’re asking for help to protect our culture.”

Ukraine has won the competition twice before, most recently in 2016 with a song about the experience of the Crimean Tartars deported by former Soviet leader Stalin; it was considered by many to be a commentary on Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Russia was barred from taking part in this year’s competition due to its invasion of Ukraine. To longtime Eurovision blogger, commentator, and author of upcoming Eurovision memoir William Lee Adams, who has been on the ground in Italy for the competition, the conflict is a dark cloud over the year’s events. Eurovision is often a celebration of culture and camp, a joyful and over-the-top representation of some of the most buoyant pop characters of the 40 countries who participate. Adams claims this year has been different. Adams says that the energy in the press room feels “deflated”. There is a feeling that something is rumbling in the background and that this festival of joy has an overhanging cloud. This is the literal meaning of the kinetic sun that was the centerpiece of the stage. It was a series arches that were meant to move in celebration of the sun within. It doesn’t work. It’s now the “black rainbow of death.” Adams sees it as a symbol of the negative effects of the Russian invasion in Ukraine. The pandemic last year slowed down the event’s energy. Adams claims that this year feels “less free .”

And then there’s the Kalush Orchestra and their chance. Adams states that there is a huge debate among fans and journalists about whether Ukraine should win out of sympathy. Adams says it is difficult to distinguish our emotions from the Ukrainian narrative and the music. Music is emotion, right? Music can tell stories. What story is more pertinent than the current war in Ukraine? He says that Eurovision was created to prevent war and to bring together warring nations to promote peace. People talk about fairness. People ask if this is unfair to other countries. Well, I say no, Ukraine didn’t ask for this war.”

Despite the fact that he’s seen their performance “about 17 times,” he says it makes an emotional impact eac

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