Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that Ukrainian band, Kalush Orchestra, triumphed in this weekend’s Eurovision Song Contest Final, with an incredible 631 points, 439 of which came from the public, making their victory unassailable, and establishing a more than comfortable lead over second place, United Kingdom’s Sam Ryder, who scored 466.
In the public vote Ukraine were awarded 12 points from 28 countries, in a previously unheard of stand of solidarity from the Eurovision community. This amazing result finally brought into being the founding tenet of the contest, to promote co-operation between European countries, in a stand of love and unity.
Ukraine’s song, ‘Stefania’, was originally dedicated to Kalush Orchestra’s frontman Oleh’s mother, but it has since become a rallying cry for Ukrainians in the fight to liberate their country in the illegal Russian war, including a video that has been going viral of a soldier in Azovstal singing the song.
The band yesterday released the incredibly powerful official music video, which was shot in war-torn cities near Kyiv.
After delivering an incredibly emotional performance in the first semi final, the band, led by frontman Oleh Psiuk, held their nerve going into the final as favourites and showed the world just how vibrant and spectacular Ukrainian culture is – receiving a standing ovation from the Pala Alpitour’s 13,000 spectators, and won the hearts and minds of millions more watching at home. They ended their performance with a heartfelt plea,
“I ask all of you, please help Ukraine, help Mariupol, help Azovstal right now.”
Their winning song, ‘Stefania’, fuses rap and hip hop with traditional Ukrainian folk music, and while it is dedicated to Oleh’s mother, it has, not just over the course of the competition, but also since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, taken on the additional meaning of love for the motherland. The song’s lyrics, including the immensely moving line, “I’ll always find my way home, even if all roads are destroyed,”, have certainly hit home.
The music video for ‘Stefania’, shot in Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka, and Hostomel, all cities near Kyiv that suffered the horrors of Russian occupation, shows a number of female Ukrainian soldiers rescuing and guiding children through the rubble, interspersed with shots of the band performing inside, and in front of, blown out buildings and other signs of the terrible destruction of war. These are real images from the decimated cities of Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka, Hostomel, all of which have brutally suffered as a result of the Russian occupation. The video ends with a shot of a little girl holding a flaming Molotov cocktail, which stands as a visceral reminder of the far reaching, devastating consequences of the war felt by every Ukrainian.
The video closes with this message from the band:
“This video was filmed in Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka, Hostomel, cities near Kyiv that suffered the horrors of Russian occupation.
Dedicated to the brave Ukrainian people, to the mothers protecting their children, to all those who gave their lives for our freedom.
Every man, every woman, every innocent child.
The war in Ukraine has multiple faces, but it is our mother’s face that keeps our hearts alive in the darkest times.
Stand with Ukraine!”
It would be extremely lazy to suggest that it was the symbolism around the Ukrainian war effort alone that earned Kalush Orchestra the top spot in the contest; in fact, ‘Stefania’ was a firm bookmaker’s favourite even before the start of the illegal war, with bookies placing it as fifth most likely to win. The song includes a melodic hook played on a traditional Ukrainian wind instrument, the Telenka.
On winning the competition, the band said:
“Such a great support from Europe lifts the spirit of all Ukrainians. It is proof that Ukrainian culture is very much alive, despite being in danger now. This victory is not for us but for brave Ukrainian people, who are fighting for our freedom now. They all stood on stage together with us at this moment and gave us strength.”
Kalush Orchestra found out they would be representing their country at this year’s competition just days before Russia invaded. Having received special permission from the Ukrainian government to leave the country for competition purposes, the band must now return to Ukraine as men of legal fighting age. Oleh Psiuk will return to running, a volunteer organisation, De ty (Where Are You?), that he established, comprising 35 active members, which helps Ukrainian refugees across the country find safe accommodation, transport, and medication. And the band will eventually reunite with one of their members, Slavik Hnatenko, who joined the territorial defence force in Kyiv, giving up his participation in the Eurovision line up to stay and fight.
Kalush Orchestra formed in 2019, and is fronted by 27-year-old Oleh Psiuk, aka The Psiuchyi Son. Oleh posted on Facebook, searching for bandmates, and found Igor Didenchuk and MC CarpetMan (KylymMen) for members. They create an incredibly unique mix of rap with folk motifs and Ukrainian authenticity – or as they like to call it: folk and groove – and for a bigger setup, they transform into Kalush Orchestra, with the addition of two additional multi-instrumentalists, Tymofii Muzychuk and Vitaliy Duzhyk.
In a time of unimaginable suffering for their country, Kalush Orchestra has delivered a message of resilience, fortitude, and hope. As winners of the Eurovision Song Contest 2022 they return to Ukraine as national heroes. The official music video for ‘Stefania’ is out now.