Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision Song Contest in the early hours of Sunday in a clear show of support for the war-ravaged nation.
The six-man band that mixes traditional folk melodies and contemporary hip hop in a purposeful defense of Ukrainian culture was the sentimental and bookmakers’ favorite among the 25 bands and performers competing in the grand finale. The public vote from home was decisive in securing their victory.
The band’s frontman, Oleg Psiuk, took advantage of the enormous global audience to make an impassioned plea to free fighters still trapped beneath a sprawling steel plant in the southern port city of Mariupol following the six-man band’s performance.
“I ask all of you, please help Ukraine, Mariupol. Help Azovstal, right now,″ Psiu, said, to the live crowd of some 7,500, many of whom gave a standing ovation, and a global television audience of millions.
The plea to free the remaining Ukrainian fighters trapped beneath the Azovstal plant by Russians served as a somber reminder that the hugely popular and at times flamboyant Eurovision song contest was being played out against the backdrop of a war on Europe’s eastern flank.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave signs that he was watching from Kyiv, and rooting for Ukrainian band.
“Indeed, this is not a war, but nevertheless, for us today, any victory is very important,″ Zelenskyy said, according to a .presidential statement. “So, let’s cheer for ours. Glory be to Ukraine!”
Kalush Orchestra was among 25 bands performing in the Eurovision Song Contest final front of a live audience in the industrial northern city of Turin, while millions more watched on television or via streaming around the world.
Russia was excluded this year after its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, a move organizers said was meant to keep politics out of the contest that promotes diversity and friendship among nations.
Ukraine’s song, “Stefania,” was written as a tribute to the frontman’s mother, but has transformed since the war into an anthem to the beleaguered nation, as lyrics take on new meaning. “I’ll always find my way home, even if all roads are destroyed,” Kalush Orchestra frontman Oleh Psiuk wrote.
The six-member, all-male band received special permission to leave the country to represent Ukraine and Ukrainian culture at the music contest. One of the original members stayed to fight, and the others plan to return as soon as the contest is over.