Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra has won the Eurovision Song Contest in the war

Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra has won the Eurovision Song Contest, a clear demonstration of popular support for the war-torn nation of a group that has gone out of music.

The band and its song “Stefania” beat 24 other actors early Sunday in the grand finale of the competition. Public voting from home via text messages or the Eurovision app has proved decisive, with British tic-tac-star Sam Ryder topping the list after leading national judges to vote in 40 countries.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the victory, saying it was Ukraine’s third since its debut at Eurovision in 2003. “We will do our best to organize the competition next year in the ruined port city of Mariupol, which is almost entirely occupied by Russian forces,” he said.

Describing the city, Zelensky underlined “Ukrainian Mariupol”, adding: “Free, peaceful, rebuilt!”

“I am convinced that our victory in the war against the enemy is not far off,” Zelensky said in a post on the Telegram messaging app.

The Kalush Orchestra Frontman, Oleh Siuk, took advantage of more than 180 million worldwide visitors last year to make an emotional appeal to the freedom fighters still trapped under a sprawling steel plant in Mariupol.

“Help Azvastall now,” Siuk pleaded after his winning performance, speaking from under a bright bucket hat that has become the band’s trademark among fans.

He later told a news conference that people could help by “spreading information, talking about it, reaching out to the government for help”.

439 fan votes, the highest number of televote points in a Eurovision contest, is now in its 66th year. Siuk thanked Ukrainian expatriates “and those around the world who voted for Ukraine. … Victory is very important for Ukraine. Especially this year.”

“Stefania” wrote Psiuk in honor of her mother, but since the Russian invasion of February 24 it has become a national anthem, with this promise song: “I will always find my way home, even if all roads are destroyed.”

The Kalush Orchestra itself is a cultural project that incorporates folklore experts and combines traditional folk tunes and contemporary hip-hop for the purposeful defense of Ukrainian culture. This has become an even more important point because Russia, through its aggression, has falsely claimed that Ukraine’s culture is not unique.

“We are here to show that Ukrainian culture and Ukrainian music are alive, and have their own and very special signatures,” Swick told reporters.

The Russians’ call for the release of the remaining Ukrainian fighters trapped under the Azovstal plant served as a poignant reminder that the hugely popular and sometimes gorgeous Eurovision Song Contest was being held in the eastern part of Europe against the backdrop of the war.

The Azov Battalion, which is among the last 1,000 defenders of the plant, sent them a thank-you note from Warren of the tunnel under the plant, posting in a telegram: “Thanks to the Kalush Orchestra for your support! Pride of Ukraine!”

The city itself has been the site of the worst devastation of the 2 1/2-month war, as Russia seeks to secure a ground bridge between the separatist-controlled Donbass and Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.

The six-member, all-male band has been given special permission to leave the country to represent Ukraine and Ukrainian culture in music competitions. One of the key members remains for the war, and the others will return to Ukraine in two days, when their temporary exit permits expire.

Prior to his trip to Italy, Psiuk was running a voluntary organization he set up early in the war that used social media to help people in need find transportation and shelter.

“It’s hard to say what I’m going to do, because this is the first time I’ve won Eurovision,” Swick said. “Like every Ukraine, I am finally ready to fight and go.”

Although support for Ukraine in the song contest was overwhelming in the end, the contest was largely open until the final popular vote was counted. And whether it was a war or not, supporters from Spain, Britain and elsewhere entering the Pala Olympico venue were rooting for the conquest of their own country from all over Europe.

Nevertheless, Ukrainian music fan Irina Lassi says she has felt global support for her country in the war and “not just for music.”

Russia was excluded this year after the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, the organizers of a move to keep politics out of the competition that promotes diversity and friendship among nations.

Back in Ukraine, in the devastated northeastern city of Kharkiv, the participation of the Kalush Orchestra in Eurovision is seen as another platform for the nation to garner international support.

“The whole country is rising, everyone in the world is supporting us. It’s beautiful,” said Julia Vashenko, a 29-year-old teacher.

“I believe that now, wherever Ukraine is and there is an opportunity to talk about the war, we need to talk,” said Alexandra Konvalova, a 23-year-old make-up artist from Kharkiv. “Any competition is important now, because more people are learning about what’s happening now because of them.”

Ukrainians in Italy are also using the Eurovision event as a flashback to this week to appeal for help for Mariupol. About 30 Ukrainians gathered at a bar in Milan to watch the broadcast, many wearing bright bucket hats like Siuk Sports in support of the band.

During the show, lawyer Joya Stankovska said, “We are very happy that he called for help to save the people of Mariupol.” “Oh, this victory brings a lot of hope.”

The winner carries a glass microphone trophy and a potential career boost – although the Kalush Orchestra’s first concern is peace.

The event was hosted by Italy after the local rock band Maneskin won in Rotterdam last year. The victory brought the Rome-based band international fame, kicking off for the Rolling Stones and appearing on Saturday Night Live and appearing on numerous magazine covers in their usual gender-liquid dress code.

Twenty bands have been selected in two semifinals this week, and they are competing with the Big Five in permanent berths Italy, Britain, France, Germany and Spain due to the financial support of the competition.

Ukrainian commentator Timur Miroshenichenko, who did a live voiceover for Ukraine’s Eurovision broadcast, was taking part in a basement in an undisclosed location, not from his usual TV studio.

“On the fifth or fourth day of the war, they shot at our TV tower in Kiev,” he said. To continue broadcasting, “We had to go underground somewhere in Ukraine.”

It is important to show Eurovision in Ukraine, online and on TV, he said.

“This year, I think it’s more symbolic than ever,” said Miroshenichenko.

Ukraine was able to participate in the music competition “Thanks to the resistance of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and our people,” he said.

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