Ukraine is doomed to win
On May 14, when Oleh Psiuk and his band Kalush Orchestra take the stage at Turin’s Pala Olimpico stadium to perform Ukrainian Stefania, the apolitical Eurovision Song Contest will be deeply mired in politics.
The six-piece Ukrainian band, which mixes folk and hip-hop, is the favorite to win the contest if, as expected, countries in Europe abandon their traditional voting blocs to support Ukraine and protest the Russian invasion . Every widely anticipated “twelve points” that will rain down on Ukraine next week will not be attributed to a song, but as a mark of solidarity with the citizens of this beleaguered country.
The original winner of this competition, Alina Pash, was forced to withdraw from the competition after details emerged of her controversial visit to Russian-occupied Crimea.
The song Stefania happens to be a solid entry, even though it only came second in the Ukrainian song contest. The original winner of this competition, Alina Pash, was forced to withdraw from the competition after details emerged of her controversial visit to the Russian-occupied region of Crimea in 2015. Stefania, having been the runner-up, was later chosen to represent Ukraine and has since become the soundtrack to viral social media videos depicting the devastation that country has suffered in recent months.
Originally, the song was written for the Kalush Orchestra singer’s mother, Psiuk. He told reporters: “This song that we created [Stefania], it’s the anthem of Ukraine and everyone sings it. The song was dedicated to my mother, now it’s every mother’s song.
The lyrics, while not specifically about war, are haunting and poignant. A repeated refrain calls for a lullaby. The rapped verse ends with “Lyuli lyuli lyulia”, a typical Ukrainian lullaby much like the chorus “tooralooraloora” sung for sleeping children in Ireland. “The field blooms, but she turns gray / Sing me a lullaby mama / I wanna hear your native word,” is a typical Stefania lyric.
While Ukraine should receive plenty of ‘twelve points’ from other countries, those same countries will not have the chance to register a disapproving ‘nil’ for Russia, as that country has been banned from the competition. The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) initially said Russia would be allowed to participate despite the Russian invasion, saying the contest was a “non-political cultural event”. (Tell that to the mutually supportive voting blocs of Greece and Cyprus or Sweden and Denmark).
Following strong criticism of the decision from broadcasters across Europe, the decision was overturned a day later when the EBU issued a statement indicating that Russia would no longer participate in this year’s competition due to “the unprecedented crisis in Ukraine”. An entry from Russia, the statement continued, “would discredit the competition”.
Dispensation in time of war
The military victory Ukrainians most desire may still prove elusive, but a potential Eurovision victory is welcome nonetheless. “Above all, we would like to have the victory on the main front line. But right now any victory is meaningful and important,” Psiuk, who runs a voluntary organization providing medicine, accommodation and transport to refugees, told The Guardian newspaper earlier this week. The group obtained special wartime dispensation from the Ukrainian government to travel to Italy for Eurovision.
Due to the conflict, this year hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians will watch the Eurovision Song Contest from temporary homes in countries across Europe.
Due to the dispute, this year hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians will watch the Eurovision Song Contest from temporary homes in countries across Europe, including Ireland. One of them, Nadia Dobrianksa, a human rights lawyer currently displaced by war and living with part of her family in Cork, says that a possible victory for Ukraine at Eurovision on Saturday next would be unifying even if the prospect of a Eurovision contest organized in Ukraine next year seems gloomy in the current circumstances.
“Eurovision is always an important event for Ukrainians,” Dobrianska said of the contest, which will be seen by 180 million people around the world. “The value of a victory for Ukraine would be immense, as it would show world audiences the reality of the Russian invasion. Although, if Ukraine wins, it is difficult to predict how the actual reception of the Eurovision in 2023 could be organized given the persistent bombardment of our cities by Russia with long-range missiles.