TURIN, Italy (Reuters) -Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision Song Contest in Italy on Saturday with their entry “Stefania”, riding a wave of public support to claim an emotional victory that was welcomed by the country’s president.
Sung in Ukrainian, the winning song fused rap with traditional folk music and was a tribute to band frontman Oleh Psiuk’s mother.
The bookmakers had made Kalush Orchestra the clear favourite for the annual contest, which normally draws a television audience of close to 200 million, based in part on popular sympathy for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in February.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was quick to offer his congratulations.
“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe! Next year Ukraine will host the Eurovision song contest,” he said in an online message.
The winners traditionally get to host the event the following year and Ukraine is hoping that it will be in a position to do so in 2023.
“I thank the Kalush Orchestra for this victory and everyone who gave us your votes! I am sure that the sound of victory in the battle with the enemy is not far off,” he added.
Ukraine was in fourth place based on jury voting but claimed victory with a record tally in viewer voting in an event that features 40 nations. Britain’s Sam Ryder finished second, while Chanel of Spain came third.
“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year, so thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine!,” Psiuk from the band told a news conference, speaking through an interpreter.
It is the third time that Ukraine has won the annual competition and he said the song, featuring traditional flutes and breakdancing in a classic Eurovision mixture of styles, was a contender even before the conflict began.
CRY FOR HELP
The band’s frontman made a plea for the city of Mariupol and its Azovstal plant at the end of their live performance.
“Please help Ukraine, Mariupol. Help Azovstal right now,” Psiuk shouted in English from the front of the stage.
Speaking after the event, Psiuk said he and the band would head back to Ukraine in two days and were not sure what the future held.
“It’s hard to say what exactly I am going to do because this is the first time I win the Eurovision Song Contest but anyway like every Ukrainian we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end,” he said.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the contest, said no action would be taken against the band for using the stage to make a statement.
“We understand the deep feelings around Ukraine at this moment and believe the comments of the Kalush Orchestra and other artists expressing support for the Ukrainian people to be humanitarian rather than political in nature,” the EBU said.
(Reporting by Tara Oakes in Turin and David Ljunggren in OttawaWriting by Keith Weir; Editing by Cynthia Osterman & Simon Cameron-Moore)