Ukraine has won the 66th Eurovision song contest, which was held on Saturday evening in Turin in Italy. Riding a tidal wave of support from the telephone-voting European public, Stefania by Kalush Orchestra finished first after strong showings by the United Kingdom, Spain and Sweden in the early voting.
“Please help Ukraine, Mariupol. Help Azovstal right now,” lead singer Oleh Psiuk shouted from the front of the stage after the band had performed. In a video address released before the event, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he believed the Kalush Orchestra would win. “Europe, vote for Kalush Orchestra. Let’s support our fellow countrymen! Let’s support Ukraine!” he said.
The winning song, which mixes rap with elements of Ukrainian folk music, was originally written in honour of the group’s mothers. The group have subsequently rededicated it to all matriarchs in Ukraine, as lines such as “I’ll always find my way home, even if all roads are destroyed” found new resonance. The six men who make up the group had to receive special permits to leave Ukraine and travel to Italy during the war.
Sam Ryder’s entry for the UK, Space Man, led at the halfway point, having won the jury vote from around Europe with 283 points. But after the points from the public vote were added, it finished second.
Before the event, Ryder had said he wasn’t concerned where he finished, saying “This is something that celebrates inclusivity, expression, love, peace, joy, togetherness. And so to think about the scoreboard, for me, takes a bit of the shine and the magic out of the room entirely.”
One of the night’s most notable performances was Norway’s Subwoolfer with Give That Wolf A Banana. The anonymous duo, known only under their pseudonyms Jim and Keith, performed in yellow wolf masks with the chorus pleading “Before that wolf eats my grandma / give that wolf a banana”.
Goth-rock band the Rasmus, internationally known for their 2003 hit In the shadows, sung for Finland, while Australia’s Sheldon Riley wore the night’s heaviest costume, weighing more than 40kg.
Serbia’s song In Corpore San featured a veiled critique of Serbia’s healthcare system, with artist Konstrikta washing her hands on stage while asking “What is the secret of Meghan Markle’s healthy hair?’
Russia did not compete, having been excluded by the organiser, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), on account of the invasion of Ukraine which began on 24 February.
Ewan Spence from the Eurovision Insight Podcast told the Guardian from Turin that “throughout the week, the singers, the broadcasters, the community have proudly stood with Kalush Orchestra and Ukraine. This will always stand as a victory at Eurovision; but it means so much more. It is the grandest gesture of love to the people of Ukraine from every single corner of every single country in Europe and beyond.”
Ukraine first appeared in the Eurovision song contest in 2003, and had won it twice, with Wild Dances by Ruslana in 2004 and the song 1944 by Jamala in 2016. The latter caused controversy as the subject of the song was the deportation of the Crimean Tatars in the 1940s by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union for alleged collaboration with the Nazis during the second world war. It was sung in English and Crimean Tatar, and came two years after the Russian Federation had annexed Crimea after the 2014 invasion.
There was the usual dash of controversy at this year’s contest too. North Macedonia’s national broadcaster threatened to pull out after its act, Andrea, was accused of disrespecting the national flag by appearing to throw it to the ground. She issued an apology explaining that she had been trying to throw it across to a member of her team who was too far away to catch it.
Organisers censored the song Eat Your Salad by Latvia’s Citi Zēni. The protest song in favour of going green included the line: “Instead of meat, I eat veggies and pussy.” With the EBU insisting the word “pussy” was dropped, Eurovision audiences had taken to shouting it out loud and clear. The song failed to qualify from Tuesday’s semi-final, avoiding an awkward pre-watershed moment for broadcasters across the continent.
There were also complications on the stage. A hi-tech element named the “kinetic sun” was supposed to revolve, allowing acts to use either a giant LED screen or a wall of lights. The mechanism for switching it proved not to be fast enough, leaving some acts scrambling just days before the contest to readjust how they presented their songs.
Despite the UK finishing second, Ukraine’s victory does still give the BBC a glimmer of hope of staging the event again for the first time since 1998. Traditionally the winner of the show hosts it the following year, but given the current situation in Ukraine, the EBU may be cautious of planning for an event in a year’s time in Kyiv. The 2023 host will most likely be chosen from one of the so-called “big five” countries who contribute the most to Eurovision coffers and who are guaranteed direct entry into the final: France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK.