TURIN, Italy – While in the third month of the fight against the Russian invasion at home, Ukraine emerged victorious from the European music competition Eurovision.
Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra, swept up in a wave of solidarity, achieved a record popular vote after performing a catchy folk-rap song and broadcasting an emotional plea for the bombed city of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine. Russia shells the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol, a strategic port city that has been under siege for more than two months. Around 500 Ukrainian fighters are trapped in the factory in the last pocket of resistance.
“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Telegram.
Watched by nearly 200 million viewers around the world, Ukraine’s triumph in Europe’s long-running music competition is more than just a talent award — it has a special political meaning. When NATO diplomats gathered in Germany this weekend, he was the deputy head of the military alliance called Ukraine’s victory in Turin is a testament to the country’s bravery and a rebuke for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “most brutal and cynical war” since World War II.
“So I say that we are united. We are strong, [and] will continue to help Ukraine win this war,” said NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană.
European politicians also took to Twitter to hail the victory. President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola promised to go to Kyiv for the Eurovision Song Contest next year while he is Prime Minister of Estonia Kaya Kallas saw the win as another sign of Europe’s steadfast support for Ukraine.
The overwhelming popular support for the Eurovision contest also came despite energy sanctions against Russia, which are ripping more and more out of Europeans’ wallets.
The success of Ukraine
A tribute to lead singer Oleh Psiuk’s mother, the Ukrainian folk-rap song became a rallying cry for Ukraine in the midst of the Russian war. With an enormous total of 631 points, Ukraine has clearly set itself apart from the other participants. The country received 439 points, the highest score from the audience in Eurovision history.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the Eurovision contest, banned Russia from participating in this year’s event the day after its invasion of Ukraine. While the panel has previously disqualified songs for being overtly political, the last time it kicked out a country in Yugoslavia was in 1993, nearly 30 years ago.
The Kalush Orchestra received special permission to leave Ukraine to perform in the European music competition. A band member stayed behind to fight at the front. The group is expected to return in two days. Frontman Psiuk, a volunteer with the country’s war effort, said he had to help people find shelter, transportation and medicine.
“Like every Ukrainian, we will fight and fight to the end,” Psiuk said at a press conference after the win.
More than two thousand kilometers away from the standing ovation in Turin, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy promised to host next year’s Eurovision contest in a free, peaceful and rebuilt country. He suggested inviting fans and candidates to Mariupol “one day”.
The European Broadcasting Union, organizer of the competition, was more cautious, emphasizing the “unique challenges” of hosting Eurovision.
Britain defied the odds to finish second after bottoming out last year with zero points. The country received the best marks from EU members including France, Belgium, Germany and Austria.
“We scored more points today than we have in the last 10 years,” said Mike, 54, from Nottingham, cheering on his Union Jack jacket. “No one believed this would happen after Brexit.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed how “incredibly proud” he was of British singer Sam Ryder and congratulated Ukraine. “It’s a clear reflection of not only your talent, but your unwavering support for your fight for freedom,” Johnson said.
Back at Turin’s stadium, where many blue and yellow flags were waved, Irina, 34, who fled Ukraine at the start of the war and now lives in Austria, said the musical victory gave her hope.
“It’s good to have Europe on our side.”