Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision Song Contest in Italy on Sunday, riding a wave of popular support for the war-ravaged nation amid Russia’s invasion.
The winning song, Stefania, sung in Ukrainian, fused rap with traditional folk music and was a tribute to band frontman Oleh Psiuk’s mother.
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Bookmakers had made Kalush Orchestra the clear favourite for the annual contest, which normally draws a television audience of close to 200 million, based in part on popular sympathy for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion on February 24.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was quick to welcome Sunday’s victory, saying: “Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!”
The winners traditionally get to host the event the following year and Zelenskyy said “we will do our best” to host next year’s contest in the hotly contested port city of Mariupol.
He underlined “Ukrainian Mariupol,” adding: “free, peaceful, rebuilt!”
“I am sure that the sound of victory in the battle with the enemy is not far off,” the president added.
Ukraine was in fourth place based on jury voting but claimed victory with a record tally in viewer voting in an event that features 40 nations.
The 439 fan votes is the highest number of tele-vote points ever received in a Eurovision contest, now in its 66th year.
Britain’s Sam Ryder finished second, while Chanel of Spain came third.
Sunday’s victory is the third time Ukraine wins the annual competition and Kalush Orchestra said the song, featuring traditional flutes and breakdancing in a classic Eurovision mix of styles, was a contender even before the conflict began.
The band’s frontman made a plea for the city of Mariupol and its Azovstal plant at the end of their live performance.
“Please help Ukraine, Mariupol. Help Azovstal right now,” Psiuk shouted in English from the front of the stage.
Speaking after the event, Psiuk thanked the Ukrainian diaspora and “everyone around the world who voted for Ukraine. … The victory is very important to Ukraine. Especially this year.”
He said he and the band would head back to Ukraine in two days and were not sure what the future held.
“It’s hard to say what exactly I am going to do because this is the first time I win the Eurovision Song Contest but anyway like every Ukrainian we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end,” he said.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the contest, said no action would be taken against the band for using the stage to make a statement.
“We understand the deep feelings around Ukraine at this moment and believe the comments of the Kalush Orchestra and other artists expressing support for the Ukrainian people to be humanitarian rather than political in nature,” the EBU said.