Tonight there’s one act everyone is looking forward to: Ukraine.
Kalush Orchestra’s “Stefania” has all the elements of a Eurovision hit: high-speed rapping, catchy folk singing, a break dancer dressed as a carpet. And after Russia’s invasion, many Eurovision fans want the band to succeed.
Here’s everything you need to know about the group’s journey to Turin:
Who is Kalush Orchestra?
Kalush is the brainchild of Oleh Psiuk, an Eminem-obsessed rapper from the city of Kalush, in west Ukraine. In a recent video interview, he said he rapped in Ukrainian to prove people wrong who said the language doesn’t work for rap.
Since 2019, his group — including the mysterious MC Carpetman, dressed in a head-to-toe bodysuit patterned like a traditional rug — have had multiple hits in Ukraine.
How did they get to Eurovision?
They almost didn’t. In February, the group came second in Ukraine’s qualifying competition behind Alina Pash, a pop singer. But after it emerged she had visited Russian-occupied Crimea, which was frowned upon in Ukraine, Kalush Orchestra took her place.
Days later, the war began. On the night of Russia’s invasion, Psiuk said the band were driving home from a concert when they heard the first explosions. He stopped thinking of music. “My main aim was to survive,” he said.
What’s the song about?
Psiuk said he wrote “Stefania” about his mother, and it includes lines like “she rocked me, gave me rhythm.” Now, many Ukrainians see it as a metaphor for Ukraine, especially the lyric, “I will always walk to you by broken roads.”
Aren’t men barred from leaving Ukraine?
Yes, Ukraine’s government has said men aged 18 to 60 must stay put and in case they are needed in the war, but the members of Kalush have been given special permission to take part in Eurovision.
Not all the band’s team is in Turin. Slavik Hnatenko, who runs the group’s social media, is in Ukraine fighting. In a video interview from Kyiv, Hnatenko said he felt the band’s appearance at Eurovision was “equally important.” “It’s a chance to show the world that our spirit is difficult to break,” he said.
Is ‘Stefania’ playing a role in the war?
Hnatenko said he was hearing “Stefania” every day in Ukraine. He had even, somewhat bizarrely, seen Russian soldiers using it in TikTok clips, he said, apparently not realizing it was Ukraine’s Eurovision entry.
Eurovision is meant to be apolitical. Will that affect Ukraine’s performance?
In the video interview, Psiuk said he wouldn’t make any strong political statements at the contest. But it’s unlikely to stop people thinking of the war. At the end of the group’s semifinal performance, Psiuk said, “Thank you for supporting Ukraine.” The audience — many waving Ukrainian flags — went wild.
What will happen to the band after the contest?
Psiuk said that even if they win tonight, he will return to Ukraine. He was running an organization there to provide people with medicine, transport and accommodation, he said. And he was prepared to fight if asked. “We won’t have a choice,” he said: “We’ll be in Ukraine.”