TURIN, Italy — While in the third month of fighting Russia’s invasion at home, Ukraine came out victorious at Europe’s musical competition Eurovision.
Swept along on a wave of solidarity, the Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra racked up a record popular vote after performing a catchy folk-rap tune and sending an emotional plea for the bombarded city of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine. Russia has been shelling the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, a strategic port city that has been besieged for more than two months. Around 500 Ukrainian fighters have been trapped at the plant in the last pocket of resistance.
“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Telegram.
Over two thousand kilometers away from the standing ovation in Turin, Zelenskyy pledged to host next year’s Eurovision Song Contest in a free, peaceful and rebuilt country.
The European Broadcasting Union, organizer of the contest, was more cautious and highlighted the “unique challenges” to host the competition.
A tribute to lead singer Oleh Psiuk’s mother, the Ukrainian folk-rap song became a rallying cry for Ukraine amid the Russian war. An enormous total of 631 points put Ukraine well clear of the other contestants. The country received the highest number of points from the public in the history of Eurovision with 439 points.
The band had been given special permission to leave Ukraine to perform in the European musical contest. One band member stayed behind to fight on the frontlines. The group is expected to go back in two days.
The U.K. defied the odds by coming second place after being last with zero points in the previous year.
“We got more points today than we got in the last 10 years,” said Mike, 54, from Nottingham, exulting in his Union Jack jacket. “No one believed this would happen after Brexit.”
Even though energy sanctions on Russia have started hitting Europeans’ wallets, the continent threw its weight behind Ukraine.
Waving her blue and yellow flag, Irina, 34, who fled Ukraine at the start of the war and now lives in Austria, said the musical victory gave her hope.
“It’s good to have Europe on our side.”