Tonight there is one act that everyone is looking forward to: Ukraine.
“Stefania” by Kalush Orchestra has all the elements of a Eurovision hit: rapping at high speed, catchy folk vocals, a break dancer dressed as a carpet. And after the invasion of Russia, many Eurovision fans want the band to succeed.
Here’s everything you need to know about the group’s trip to Turin:
Who is Kalush Orchestra?
Kalush is the brainchild of Oleh Psiuk, an Eminem-obsessed rapper from the western Ukraine city of Kalush. 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 with the pattern of a traditional carpet – has had several hits in Ukraine.
How did they end up in the Eurovision Song Contest?
They almost didn’t. In February, the group came second in the Ukrainian qualifier behind Alina Pash, a pop singer. But after it turned out that she had visited the Russian-occupied Crimea, which was frowned upon in Ukraine, Kalush Orchestra took her place.
Days later the war started. On the night of the Russian invasion, Psiuk said the band was driving home from a concert when they heard the first explosions. He stopped thinking about music. “My main goal was to survive,” he said.
What is 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 lyrics: “I will always walk to you along broken roads.”
Are men not excluded from leaving Ukraine?
Yes, the Ukrainian government has said that men aged 18 to 60 should stay put in case they are needed in the war, but the members of Kalush have been given special permission to participate in Eurovision.
Not all of the band’s team is in Turin. Slavik Hnatenko, who manages the group’s social media, is fighting in Ukraine. In a video interview from Kiev, Hnatenko said he thought the band’s performance in the Eurovision Song Contest was “equally important”. “It’s an opportunity to show the world that our spirits are hard to break,” he said.
Does ‘Stefania’ play a role in the war?
Hnatenko said he heard “Stefania” every day in Ukraine. He had even, somewhat bizarrely, seen Russian soldiers use it in TikTok clips, he said, apparently unaware that it was Ukraine’s entry to the Eurovision Song Contest.
Eurovision is meant to be apolitical. Will that affect Ukraine’s performance?
In the video interview, Psiuk said he would not make strong political statements during the match. But people are unlikely to think about the war. At the end of the group’s semifinal performance, Psiuk said, “Thank you for supporting Ukraine.” The crowd – many waving Ukrainian flags – went wild.
What happens to the tire after the game?
Psiuk said that even if they win tonight, he will return to Ukraine. He ran an organization there to provide people with medicines, transport and housing, he said. And he was willing to fight if asked. “We have no choice,” he said, “We are in Ukraine.”