Kalush Orchestra — Ukraine’s Eurovision 2022 act — doesn’t just tug on heartstrings. It rips them out and sets them on fire. Lead singer Oleh Psiuk raps about his mother Stefania — the song’s titular character — and celebrates her strong yet supple hands, which encouraged him through good times and bad. Written prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the song has taken on new meaning in light of the war. It now reads as Mother Ukraine protecting her children at the same time they strive to defend her.
The Ukrainian-language folk-rap track doesn’t feature any English. But viewers will still understand that “mamo” — repeated in the chorus — means mother. The staging makes her pain manifest. On the LED screen we see large eyes, tearful from the lost spring, and on the LED floor wrinkled hands — a mother cradling her children during their most difficult moment.
In recent months the members of Kalush Orchestra have been involved in Ukraine’s war effort — from helping displaced people relocate to actively participating in the country’s territorial defence. They received special permission to leave Ukraine for Eurovision and the promotional tour beforehand. That’s largely down to the prestige and importance of Eurovision in both Ukraine and Russia. Their appearance is a reminder that Ukrainian culture exists despite efforts to erase it.
“We believe that it is very important for every Ukrainian to be able to speak up for Ukraine right now,” the group told me in Amsterdam. “For us it is particularly important to to represent the authentic, beautiful Ukrainian music, so that it gets an opportunity to be represented in the world market.
Their participation could be cast as part of the country’s war effort: “The feeling is that by doing what we are doing we can be of most use for our country — by doing our job.”
For months the bookies have had Ukraine down as the front-runners to win. An hour before the show, they were the heavy favourites with odds of 4/11 — putting them well ahead of second favourite Sweden (19/2) and third favourite the UK (10/1).
There’s an assumption that the artists will receive overwhelming support from the televoting public. The world has seen the horrific images coming out Ukraine — including photos of tortured civilians with their arms bound and gun shot wounds to the head. Their struggle just to get here will provide one of the TV moments of the year. Voting nations including Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia will be particularly sympathetic to their neighbours, owing to a shared understanding of oppression from Moscow. You can understand why the bookies are getting swept up in the hype.
A win seems likely, but it isn’t guaranteed. The professional jury — which makes up 50% of the score — has a tendency to vote with their head rather than their heart. Will they put their name down next to Ukrainian folk-rap? Last year’s split result show that they’re less likely to (Ukraine’s EDM-folk group Go_A finished seventh with the juries and second with the televote).
We’ve also been here before. In 1993, when Bosnia & Herzegovina debuted at the contest, its contestant Fazla had to flee the Siege of Sarajevo under cover of darkness as snipers fired at him. “We came with mud on our feet and in our pants and jacket,” he told me of his difficult journey from war-torn Sarajevo to Eurovision. “They knew we didn’t come for the money or to make a career out of it. They knew why we came there — just to bring our story to as many living rooms as we could.”
Despite providing the emotional climax of the evening, Bosnia finished 15th ( in an era when the show was decided 100% by the jury).
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Around the Eurovision press room, and in our live chats on YouTube, a lot of folks have said, “Ukraine shouldn’t win out of sympathy” and that “the best song should win.” But how do you define the best song? If it’s something likely to be played on the most radio stations around Europe, then clearly “Stefania” isn’t it.
But music is feeling. If Ukraine’s stage performance of “Stefania” makes people feel something — whether that’s sadness or even discomfort — surely that’s enough to justify a vote?
We’d love to know what you’re thinking. Let us know in the comments down below!
WIlliam, please learn that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are not Ukraine’s neighbouring nations. This is mentioned here and was mentioned on your BBC interview.
Please do your homework and consider discussing something ‘you’ve heard’ after research.
you are absolutely right. No need for downvoting. He might have meant a sense of solidarity between all of Russia’s neigbours.
So happy about the UK being the runner-up and Spain being third! I hope all Big 5 countries do well next year and hope a country wins that hasn’t ever won or hasn’t in forever (like the UK, Spain or France)
Congratulations to Ukraine on its third win at Eurovision. Congratulations to the UK for its best result in ages. And also to my beautiful hermanos from Spain (well deserved third place!). Tremendously happy that my country, against “some” odds, got a respectable 9th. Parabéns, Maro! Parabéns, Portugal! <3
Spain is my winner, I voted 20 times for La Reina Chanel. And so happy Moldova came 2nd with the public (I voted 20 times for them in the Semi) 🙂 Congratulations to the Ukraine, “Stefania” is amazing song. I hope the war will be over soon and the country will recover (I am from Croatia, here we have some idea of what those people are going through…)
A tip of the hat for Sam ???! Second though it may be, nonetheless, the U.K. goes from ZEROES to HEROES! Now you know what works and what don’t!
HEY!! SEND HIM AGAIN! Don’t let a good thing go to waste!
Same for Spain ?? ! After 6 straight times langushing in the bottom 5 or 6, you have your answer now. Don’t fall asleep on it!
Crap. Flag graphics won’t show.
Semi Final results are out. I’m surprised Brooke did so low after the show. Also didn’t expect Mia and Andrea so high among the non qualifiers.
Scandalous can’t believe never watching this again it’s supposed to be a song contest not a sympathy vote ! Can’t believe this result..
Now they won this competition we should ask if Ukraine will be hosting ESC next year?
Who were the foolish ones who went against the odds? The odds are right every year. There is no more suspense.
The odds were wrong about Jamala, Netta, Maneskin and Conchita in the last 10 years. I will never understand this obsession with the odds.
No they weren’t. The odds correctly predicted all of those except Conchita.
I am so disappointed with this. How are we able to maintain that Eurovision is not political when a country in war have won due to the sympathy vote from the general public? It seems that the EBU make no exception for politicisation except when it comes to Ukraine.
There’s nothing for us to maintain. We should only accept the fact that Eurovision is as political as any other competition where artists/athletes/etc. represent countries. Eurovision started as a response to a political conjecture. It still is, every year, a place for political tensions to be revealed, sometimes to be reinforced, as we have seen many times with Russia vs. Ukraine, Armenia vs. Azerbaijan, Georgia vs. Russia, Russia vs. everyone else. If you go back in time to the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, you’ll be surprised with the amount of times (almost every year) where current political affairs and Eurovision… Read more »
Moldova bottom of most peoples top eurovision songs 2022 and 2nd with the public i guess you never know where the public is going to go Well done to UK and Portugal finishing 9th, 2 of my favs this year.
Norway got running order of 7, place 7th with the public and 17th with the jury lol.
UK and Spain finally broke their cycles . Well done to both and maybe the beginning of bright future for them
What does this teach us? Have your country invaded and you will automatically win Eurovision. Ukraine did it twice 😀
oh yes i’m calling some guys to invade my country so it wins ESC
Ukraine would trade you all their points to get their home back
That is a parody… I feel bad for Ukraine – the last thing they need is to deal with eurovision next year
Stefania it’s an awesome song, i’m happy for them. But that difference… well each one can make conclusions about that.
I’m so happy with Serbia coming 5th and Portugal 9th!! Well done!!
Huge congrats to the UK!! From last with 0 to 2nd with 466!! You should have won but you still scored huge! Thank you and keep giving strong entries in the future!
Serbia done dirty by the juries. People bites en masse for Konstrakta!
france flopped, I guess it wasn’t just me who didn’t like that
should have sent SOA
It’s done congratulations Ukraine but in my heart it’s Chanel (Spain)
Same for me.. Spain and Chanel in my heart 4Ever
Chanel is my winner as well
Ride the wave of emotions, boys and girls! Don’t talk to me about the war! They had to work VERY HARD to KEEP its number 1 standing, as hard as everyone else had to work to steal it from them!
Perfect top 3, sweden not in them and serbia top 5. <3 lovely
Subwoolfer came 7th with the public with 146p. Not too shabby. They finished 10th, I’m glad less go Wolfies!
Can we talk about Moldova coming 7th passing Greece, Poland and Netherlands well done!!!
People gotta stop underestimating Moldova!!!
Hey ho, let’s go! Party train!
You’re right. Year after year, the “bubble” laughts at Moldova. Cinan and Suzanne, when will you learn?
THE BEST SONG WOULD COME SECOND ANYWAYS TONIGHT, WHOEVER WOULD THAT BE! SO PROUD OF SAM, EVEN THOUGH I’M A GREEK!
wait for the DRAMA
Serbia top 5, Italy breaking the host country curse, Estonia and Lithuania saved
All I will say is that I am so disappointed with the result.. not a deserved win at all..
The whole of the European public disagree with you.
I think 10th place is very respectable.
GAME OVER, MAN!
I told you I estimated 400+ points for ukraine
The UK can’t beat that
Ukraine won. 439p from the public my goodness!!
The Wolves came 10th I’ll take it I’m happy!
JESUS CHRIST UKRAINE
I told you the public would begin cleaning up the mess the juries left
wtf i thought czechia wouldve done way better
One of these countries will win ESC 2022!
I’m so happy for the UK <3
MY FIRST WISH FOR THIS YEAR’S SHOW CAME TRUE: UK WON THE JURY VOTING! <3<3
Germany got ZERO, really??!!
On the JURY side this time. The public gave them 6 points.
It’s official: The UK have won the jury votes!
With 283p : )
That’s an incredible achievement for Sam and the team, congratulations. Next, we roll the dice.
This is sooooo clooose damn
The juries seriously hate Poland. Like wow. Doesn’t matter what Poland do they just get can’t jury p’s.
What’s with all the technical problems? Italy’s technology not up to scratch?
I’m pleased Portugal surpassed 100p.
Come on Sam! You can do it. I say if he wins the Queen should give him a knighthood.
Montenegro votes is what is wrong with Eurovision