Europe backs Ukraine

Zelensky vows to host Eurovision ‘one day’ in Mariupol

Karush Orchestra celebrate victory

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has vowed to host the Eurovision Song Contest in the bombed-out city of Mariupol after his country swept to victory in this year’s competition.

Mr Zelensky saw Ukraine’s success as a further message of public support in its war with Russia and said the country will welcome Eurovision to the rebuilt port city which has been destroyed by the invading army.

Eurovision is no stranger to political interference, from accusations of bribery by Spain’s General Franco to deny Cliff Richard victory in 1968, to blackouts during Israel’s performances, and few would have been surprised at Ukraine’s success as the contest became a continent-wide expression of emotion for the victims in the conflict.

The judges placed the UK, Sweden, Spain and Serbia ahead of Ukraine, but the public vote saw the folk-rap Karush Orchestra surge to the top of the leader board. As victory was celebrated by Ukraine flags being waved around Turin’s Pala Olimpico, the sextet returned to the stage and the lead singer declared: “This is victory is for Ukrainians.”

It was both a dedication from the band, and an acknowledgement of the public’s message of defiance to Russian leader Vladimir Putin whose country, along with his ally Belarus, had been banned from the competition following its 24 February invasion.

In a message of congratulations from Kyiv, President Zelensky said: “Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe. Next year Ukraine will host Eurovision.

Karush Orchestra’s song has become a war anthem

“For the third time in its history and, I believe, not the last. We will do our best to one day host the participants and guests of Eurovision in Ukrainian Mariupol. Free, peaceful, rebuilt.

“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. Glory to Ukraine.”

Kalush Orchestra’s song Stefania was written before the invasion but has become a war anthem for Ukraine and had been among the favourites with bookmakers.

The influence of the Ukraine conflict on the public was not lost on those who noted that the UK, a big supporter of Zelensky’s regime, came second while the lukewarm support from France and Germany saw them end the night at the foot of the table.

Staging next year’s competition in Ukraine now throws up numerous questions, not least whether the war will be over and if Mariupol, razed by Russian tanks, is a live option.

What is not in question is Eurovision’s ability to unite and divide a continent beyond its eclectic taste in music which this year included the usual mix of serious ballads, disco-themed singalongs and weird novelty acts. Norway’s entry Give That Wolf a Banana featured the singers wearing paper masks, and felt like it belonged to a sillier era, while the Serbs’ song was devoted to health. It was performed by a singer washing her hands in a bowl and made reference Meghan Markle’s hair.

The UK enjoyed rare recent success, coming second with Space Man, performed by the TikTok star Sam Ryder, a former construction worker.

Despite its oddities – which are also part of its appeal – only the most cynical would criticise an event that is also regarded as a showcase for the latest technical and digital wizardry. This year’s event was also generally viewed as a return to classier songs and was a more sober occasion, given the crisis in Europe. Arguably it offered an unofficial opinion poll on Putin’s war.

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