For 11 weeks, Ukrainians have faced war, destruction and loss. But on Saturday, they could be celebrating victory: the soulful country hip-hop song. “Stefania” is the favorite to win the Eurovision Song Contest, the cultural phenomenon that helped launch Abba and Celine Dion and is watched annually by 200 million people.
“Stefania”, an anthem song by the Ukrainian Kalush Orchestra, was originally written to honor the mother of the group’s leader, Oleh Psiuk. But since the war, it has been reinterpreted as a tribute to Ukraine as a homeland. The song includes lyrics that roughly translate to “You can’t take my willpower away from me, since I got it from her” and “I’ll always find my way home, even if the roads are destroyed.”
The hugely popular Eurovision Song Contest, a famously over-the-top display of kitsch, whose previous winners include a Finnish heavy metal monster band fond of blowing up steaming hunks of meat on stage, he has taken on a particularly political overtone this year.
In February, event organizers barred Russia from participating in the contest, a showcase intended to promote European unity and cultural exchange, citing fears that Russia’s inclusion would damage its reputation.
The move underscored Russia’s deepening estrangement from the international community, including in the realm of culture. Russia began competing in the world’s largest song contest in 1994 and has competed more than 20 times. His involvement has been something of a cultural touchstone for the country’s recovery and its engagement with the world after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia came to power from the political and economic chaos of the 1990s.
In 2008, when Dima Bilan, a Russian pop star, won Eurovision with the song “Believe,” Mr. Putin was quick to deliver congratulations, thanking him for further burning Russia’s image.
It’s not the first time politics has invaded the contest, which debuted in 1956. In 2005, Ukraine’s entry song was rewritten after being deemed too political because it celebrated the Orange Revolution. When Dana International, an Israeli transgender woman, won in 1998 with her hit song “Diva,” the rabbis accused her of flouting the values of the Jewish state.
ukrainian entry “Stefania” comes from a band that combines traditional Ukrainian folk music with rap and hip-hop. Kalush Orchestra brought the semi-final audience to their feet in Turin, Italy, on Tuesday with an energetic performance that sent them through to the Grand Final on Saturday.
The band traveled to Eurovision with special permission to circumvent a martial law that prevents most Ukrainian men from leaving the country, according to the Ukrainian public broadcasting company Suspilne.
The war has required other adjustments. The show’s Ukrainian commentator, Timur Miroshnychenko, has been broadcasting from a bomb shelter.
AN Photo posted by Suspilne showed the veteran presenter at a desk in a bunker-like room, surrounded by computers, cables, a camera, and weathered walls that revealed patches of brick beneath. It was not clear which city he was in.
The bunker had been prepared to avoid interruptions from air raid sirens, Miroshnychenko told BBC Radio 5 Live. He said Ukrainians love the pageant and were “trying to catch whatever moments of peace” they could.
“Nothing is going to interrupt the broadcast of Eurovision,” he said.