Ukraine doesn’t just think outside of the box — they set it on fire and then dance on its ashes. As part of our pan-European tour of Eurovision countries, we’re now getting off the plane at Boryspil Airport to celebrate 10 reasons why we love Ukraine at the Eurovision Song Contest.
Ukraine has consistently done well at Eurovision and, along with Australia, is the only country that has always managed to qualify from the semi-finals. In the 15 years that the country has participated in the contest, it has won the event twice and has placed inside the top 10 more than outside of it. Through the years we have had a very diverse bunch of entries from the Carpathian nation. They’ve served us the modern and the traditional, pop and rock, and the strange and the even stranger. Let’s break it down in 10 strokes.
1. Their artistic storytelling
Ukraine does well at Eurovision, simply because they know how to bring a story across. Mika Newton took Ukraine’s Got Talent winner and sand artist Kseniya Simonova to Düsseldorf to portray her story in a sand drawing on the LED screen. (Curiously, Mika’s PR later revealed to wiwibloggs editor William that the staging was there to “distract from a bad song”.
Both Jamala and Ani Lorak won the Marcel Bezençon’s Artistic Award for their stagings. The former included a stunning climax with a digital tree springing from the stage to show a resurgent Ukraine, while the latter made unbelievable use of a box, a screen and Miss Lorak’s own body.
2. The many divas that dazzled
The oestrogen in the contest is always high, but for Ukraine, it’s extremely high. For many years, Ukraine was solely known for sending a bunch of pop divas including their biggest-selling stars Ruslana, Tina Karol and Ani Lorak. Between 2006 and 2016 they only sent female performers to Eurovision. Their entries were frequently empowering and cast women in dominant roles — from the intoxicating “Shady Lady” of 2008 to the Dominatrix-like stylings of Svetlana Loboda a year later. Perhaps most moving off the stage was Gaitana, who stared down hate from ultraconservatives who said she wasn’t “an organic representative of the Ukraine” owing to her African roots.
3. Their incredible comeback after 2015
We were heartbroken to see the country withdraw in 2015 after hearing they didn’t have the finances to pay the fee and broadcasting rights for Eurovision. Luckily, they could fly into Stockholm the following year and could even organise a completely upgraded national final which saw many big names participating. As a cherry on top, Jamala won the 61st edition of the contest and brought the contest back to Ukraine for the first time in 12 years.
4. They dare to sing about the black pages of their own history
Ukraine is not scared of a little controversy and rather wants to keep it real with us. One of the most politically-themed Eurovision entries was 2005’s “Razam nas bahato” by Greenjolly, which was seen as the unofficial entry during the Orange Revolution, a political crisis during the presidential election of 2004. Alyosha brought us back to the ruins of Chernobyl and urged us to never let such a humanitarian and natural disaster happen ever again. Jamala told the story of her great-grandmother’s child loss during the persecution of Crimean Tatars by Stalin in 1944 during the aftermath of Crimea crisis.
5. Vidbir (and their honest judges)
Ukraine experimented with different national finals before, but back then, that often clashed with scandals about fraud and nepotism. After their year off, a new concept for a national final was installed which Eurovision fans now call Vidbir (which means “selection” in Ukrainian). Although the show length is long compared to other selections — an episode can take up to five hours — it is pleasant to watch as the judges are deathly honest with the participants. In 2016, judge Konstantin Meladze compared Viktoria Petryk’s song to cabbage that he once bought when he was a student to make borshch: looked beautiful on the outside, but turned out untasty. The show also gives a chance for smaller acts to present themselves, like O.Torvald in 2017.
6. They make good use of a box
When the first Ukrainian artist stepped onto the stage in 2003, he didn’t forget to bring a gimmick to Istanbul. Oleksandr Ponomaryov brought a female dancer in a complete blue bodysuit who was spinning around and making all kinds of disorientating aerobatic movements in and on this blue box. Ukraine kept the trend with boxes, putting Ani Lorak‘s dancers in boxes in 2008 and putting Melovin into a carved out piano last May.
7. If you say hamster wheel at Eurovision, you say Ukraine
Their 2009 hamster wheel, officially called the Hell Machine by Svetlana Loboda, is arguably one of the most famous and the biggest prop in Eurovision history. It was so big that Ukraine’s performance had to be planned around a commercial break, otherwise the stage crew would not have enough time to set it up. Five years later, they gave the hamster wheel new life and the impressive prop helped Mariya Yaremchuk to finish sixth overall.
8. Their unique dress sense
If Ukraine were a queen on RuPaul’s Drag Race, her costumes would be so good that she would never have to worry to have to lip sync for her life. From Ruslana rocking a leather skirt to Tina Karol channelling knee-high bright colours, it shows that Ukraine takes every detail of their costume seriously. She is the fashion star of the contest, shining just as bright as Verka Serduchka‘s star. Back in 2016, Jamala even organised a competition, calling for dress designs for Stockholm.
9. Their stage names are hilarious
You wouldn’t believe me if I told you that Zlata Ognevich is actually a stage name. But it is! She was born Inna Bordyuh. The Ukrainians are creative making up their stage names. Mélovin explained that his name was inspired by the names of designer Alexander McQueen and the holiday Halloween, while Ani Lorak is Karolina spelled backwards, which is the actual first name of the singer.
10. They can host the show and they do that well
We loved coming and going to Kyiv both in 2005 and 2017 and the Ukrainians showed us their culture. While many Eurovision fans felt that “Love Love Peace Peace” left a big void to fill for an interval act. The Ukrainian presenters were only brought in very late in the year, though they surprised many of us during the opening act of the second semi-final.
What are the reasons that you love Ukraine at Eurovision? Let us know in the comments below!
Picture sources: Irish Times, KyivPost