Eurovision Song Contest 2022: Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra takes center stage in Turin, Italy

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“I will always come to you, through rough roads.” Ukrainian singer Oleh Psiuk once rapped these words as a tribute to his mother, but when his band, Kalush Orchestra performs at Eurovision this week, the lyrics will resonate differently.

“And my will cannot be taken away from me, because she gave it away,” he sings after his melodic vocals in “Stefania,” in rehearsal for Tuesday’s semi-finals of Europe’s most popular TV music competition, as bombs rain down on his country and Ukrainians count the bodies under the rubble.

With over 5 million views, ukrainian song became the most watched music video on YouTube among entries from 40 countries, mostly in Europe, competing at the annual pageant in the Italian city of Turin.

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“Some things here were written long before the war, and they were dedicated to my mother,” Psiuk told the Associated Press earlier. “After it all started with the war, it took on extra meaning, and a lot of people started to see it as their mother, Ukraine, in the sense of the country.”

Ukrainian authorities have allowed the singer and his five bandmates to travel to Italy for the contest, as the country has imposed martial law, banning most Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving ahead of a to be called into battle. A member of the folk-rap group stayed behind to fight.

If Kalush Orchestra – which mixes hip-hop and Ukrainian folk dance – makes it to the Eurovision final on Saturday and wins, Ukraine gets the right to host the 2023 competition. The competition, first held in 1956 , attracts public votes and, although its organizers in the European Broadcasting Union have presented it as a “non-political” event, it has often reflected the political dynamics of its time.

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In fact, the band replaced original Ukraine act Alina Pash earlier this year due to an investigation into a 2015 visit she made to Crimea, the peninsula Moscow annexed in 2014. And after the Kremlin launched its war against Ukraine, Russia was banned from this year’s contest.

In 2016, Crimean Tatar singer Jamala’s Ukrainian entry marked Ukraine’s second Eurovision win. When the competition was held in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, the following year, Moscow was not allowed to participate.

Armenia and Georgia were among contenders for withdrawal in recent years due to diplomatic tensions with other countries, while the victory of Austrian bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst in 2014 sparked debates in Europe over the rights of children. LGBTQ.

Annabelle Chapman contributed to this report.