For 11 weeks, Ukrainians have been braving war, destruction and loss. But on Saturday they could celebrate the win: the rousing, hip-hop-infused song ‘Stefania’ is the preferred choice to win the Eurovision Song Contest, the cultural phenomenon that helped launch Abba and Celine Dion and is watched by 200 million people annually.
An anthemic song by the Ukrainian Kalush Orchestra, ‘Stefania’ was originally written in honor of the mother of the group’s frontman, Oleh Psiuk. But since the war, it has been reinterpreted as a tribute to Ukraine as a motherland. The song has lyrics roughly translated as “You can’t take my willpower from me the way I got it from her” and “I’ll always find my way home even when the roads are ruined.”
The wildly popular Eurovision Song Contest, a famously over-the-top display of kitsch, whose past winners have been a Finnish heavy metal monster band that loves to blow up smoking slabs of meat on stage, has a particularly political undertone this year. got.
In February, the event organizer banned Russia from participating in the contest, a showcase intended to promote European unity and cultural exchange, fearing Russia’s participation would damage its reputation.
The move underlined Russia’s increasing alienation from the international community, including in terms of culture. Russia began participating in the song contest, the world’s largest, in 1994 and has competed more than 20 times. His participation has been a kind of cultural touchstone for the country’s recovery and engagement with the world after Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin came to power in the wake of the political and economic chaos of the 1990s.
In 2008, when Dima Bilan, a Russian pop star, won the Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Believe”, Putin promptly weighed in with congratulations and thanked him for further polishing Russia’s image.
It is not the first time that politics has interfered with the contest, which premiered in 1956. In 2005, Ukraine’s submission song was rewritten after it was deemed too political as it celebrated the Orange Revolution. When Dana International, an Israeli transgender woman, won in 1998 with her hit song “Diva,” rabbis accused her of violating the values of the Jewish state.
Several bookmakers have said that Ukraine is by far the likely favorite to win the competition this year. Winners are determined based on votes from national juries and home viewers.
Ukraine’s entry “Stefania” comes from a band that combines traditional Ukrainian folk music with rap and hip-hop. Kalush Orchestra rocked the semi-final audience in Turin, Italy, on Tuesday with a spirited performance that sent them through to Saturday’s grand final.
The band traveled for the Eurovision Song Contest with special permission to bypass a state of siege that prevented most Ukrainian men from leaving the country, according to Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne.
War has required other adjustments. The Ukrainian commentator for the show, Timur Miroshnychenko, is broadcasting from a bomb shelter.
A photo posted by Suspilne showed the veteran presenter sitting at a desk in a bunker-like room, surrounded by computers, wires, a camera and eroding walls revealing chunks of brick beneath. It was not clear which city he was in.
The bunker was prepared to avoid disturbances from air raid sirens, Mr Miroshnychenko told BBC Radio 5 Live. He said Ukrainians love the game and are “trying to catch every quiet moment” they could.
“Nothing will interrupt the broadcast of Eurovision,” he said.