In a symbolic victory more than three months after the Russian invasion, Ukraine took top honors in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
The annual songwriting and performance competition is often viewed as an opportunity to celebrate a diverse range of musical styles, appreciate its sometimes kitschy presentations, and to feel national pride. The winner is voted on by panels of professional musicians and television viewers across Europe, although the audience cannot vote for their own country’s entrant.
The participants are admonished to refrain from political themes, however, the popular sentiment of the day can swing votes and Ukraine had been acknowledged as a favorite in this year’s contest.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised the band on Instagram seconds after Ukraine’s victory was announced.
“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he said in the post. Alluding to the rule that a winner of the previous year’s competition gets to host the contest, he said: “Next year Ukraine will host Eurovision! For the third time in its history. And I believe – not the last. We will do our best to one day host the participants and guests of Eurovision in Ukrainian Mariupol. Free, peaceful, rebuilt!”
Ukraine’s entrant was a group called the Kalush Orchestra, performing a folk/hip-hop style song called “Stefania,” about the lead singer’s mother.
Kalush is the name of the city where singer Oleh Psyuk grew up, in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains about 375 miles west of Kyiv.
The folk-rap group initially finished second in Ukraine’s national selection competition, but they were elevated after it emerged the initial winner had previously traveled to Russian-annexed Crimea. They were unveiled as the country’s entry on February 22, two days before Russian troops invaded Ukraine.
“As we speak, our country and our culture is under threat. But we want to show that we are alive, Ukrainian culture is alive, it is unique, diverse, and beautiful,” Oleg Psyuk, the band’s frontman, told CNN earlier.
Eurovision is among the world’s most-watched events not including sports, with hundreds of millions of viewers, and it often launches or reignites the careers of songwriters, artists and featured songs thanks to such wide exposure.
Traditionally, the winning nation hosts the following year’s event, attracting thousands of spectators and entertainment journalists, and drawing attention to the country’s tourism industry.