Ukraine's representative act Kalush Orchestra has won the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy, following the tallying of all votes from judges, countries and the public.
Sung in Ukrainian, the winning song "Stefania" fused rap with traditional folk music and was a tribute to band frontman Oleh Psiuk's mother.
The country amassed considerable support from judges but an immense amount of support from the public, which helped push them to the top of the list by a considerable margin.
Kalush Orchestra ultimately reaped a total of 631 points, vastly dwarfing the runner-up, the United Kingdom, which received just 466 points. Spain came in third with 459 points followed by Sweden with 438 and Serbia with 312.
This victory also marks Ukraine's third-ever Eurovision victory, following 2004 when Ruslana won with the song "Wild Dancers" and in 2016 when Jamla won with the song "1944." This has already given them the best Eurovision track record in Eastern Europe. In addition, they are typically highly favored in the song contest, as since their Eurovision debut in 2003, Ukraine has always made it to the finals whenever they participated.
The official Ukraine Twitter account was quick to congratulate Kalush Orchestra on their victory and thanked the public for their support.
you have melted our hearts, friends #Eurovision ......and it matters the world to us during this time we send all your love and support to our brave freedom defenders at Azovstal and along the frontlinecongrats, KALUSH Orchestra #SaveMariupol #SaveAzovstal pic.twitter.com/Vt7WzpMHFQ— Ukraine / Україна (@Ukraine) May 14, 2022
"You have melted our hearts, friends... and it matters the world to us during this time," the account tweeted, referencing the ongoing Russian invasion of the country and, in particular, the battle at the Azovstal steel plant where the last defenders of Mariupol are holding out.
"We send all your love and support to our brave freedom defenders at Azovstal and along the frontline," the account noted. "Congrats, Kalush Orchestra."
During their performance, the Kalush Orchestra also put out a plea for Azovstal. One of the group's members, Lviv Otoy, has a brother believed to be missing at Azovstal, as reported by Ukrainian state media outlet Ukrinform.
This was also noted by the Azov Battalion, the Ukrainian fighters defending Mariupol, who on their official Telegram channel thanked Kalush Orchestra for their support, Ukrinform reported.
The backdrop of the war was very evident in Ukraine, where images shared on social media and in news outlets showed Ukrainian soldiers watching the contest. According to the BBC, Ukraine's presenter and commentator Timur Miroshnychenko had covered the entire song contest while in a bomb shelter due to the ongoing Russian invasion.
This is how Ukraine’s Eurovision presenter and commentator Timur Miroshnychenko reacted to the news of Kalush Orchestra’s victory. Due to Russia’s never-ending rocket attacks, Timur had to go on air from a bomb shelter. pic.twitter.com/oIXrDPvQX2— Myroslava Petsa (@myroslavapetsa) May 14, 2022
Looking towards Eurovision 2023
As is tradition, Ukraine is expected to host the 2023 iteration of Eurovision within its borders.
Writing over Telegram, Ukraine's Culture and Information Policy Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said that consideration has begun over where in Ukraine the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest will take place, Pravda reported.
However, it is possible that Ukraine will be unable to host the contest for any number of reasons. Indeed, a winner not hosting the next year's competition has happened before on multiple occasions, such as when Israel won in 1979.
In that case, the competition will be held somewhere else in Europe.
In his congratulatory remarks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he hopes the song contest will one day be hosted in Mariupol.
"Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!" Zelensky said over Facebook. "Next year, Ukraine will host Eurovision for the third time in its history. And I believe not for the last time. We will make sure that one day, the participants and guests of Eurovision will be hosted in Ukrainian Mariupol."
He concluded: "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."
Likewise, Ruslan Stefanchuck, speaker of Ukraine's legislature the Verkhovna Rada, has said that he hopes Eurovision 2023 will be held in a Ukraine-controlled Crimea, according to Ukrinform.
The backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine War
The conflict in Ukraine was on the minds of most at the song contest. Notably, Iceland's representative band Stystur ended their performance with the plea "Peace for Ukraine," and the German representative's guitar was adorned with the image of a Ukrainian flag with the word "PEACE" written in bold over it.
The many calls for peace in Ukraine and the Kalush Orchestra's pleas for aid for the defenders of Azovstal were not considered political statements, something that is banned from Eurovision, but rather humanitarian gestures, according to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).
"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 in a statement.
The Russian invasion also colored Ukraine's selection process for this year's representative, done on the contest Vidbir 2022, with artists who had performed a concert in Russia since 2014 or entered Russian-occupied Crimea without permission from Ukraine being ineligible. This proved important, because the winner of Vidbir 2022, Ukrainian singer and rapper Alina Pash, was revealed by Ukrainian broadcaster UA:PBC to have in fact visited Crimea in 2015 and may have done so illegally.
After this, it was decided that Pash couldn't participate in Eurovision and the Vidbir 2022 runner-up, Kalush Orchestra, went instead.
The war was also responsible for Russia being banned from the competition, which means they were not only unable to participate but unable to vote as well.
Many Russians may not have even heard the winning song, with Facebook and Instagram both blocking access to "Stefania" for Russian users, according to Russia's TASS news agency.
This is a developing story.
Reuters contributed to this report.