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Turin, Italy – Ukrainian rap and folklore orchestra Kalush won the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday, as European viewers and jurors offered token pop culture support for the solidarity behind Ukraine in its defense against the Russian invasion.

After 80 days of fighting that forced millions from their homes, wreaked havoc on cities and towns across eastern Ukraine and killed tens of thousands, the band won an emotional victory for Ukraine with a performance of “Stefania. . . a sexy, lively song. Written to honor the mother of the band’s leader, Oleh Psyuk, the song was reinterpreted during the war as a tribute to Ukraine as a motherland.

The song includes lyrics roughly translated to, “You can’t take my will from me, as you got it from me,” and “I will always find my way home, even if the roads are destroyed.”

After Seok sang the song on Saturday night, he put his hand over his heart and shouted, “I’m asking you all, please help Ukraine!” European voters heard for the band 631 votes to win, far ahead of Britain’s Sam Ryder, who finished second with 466 votes.

Pesiuk’s mother had texted him after the win to tell him that she loved him “and was proud,” he said at a media conference after the contest in which he thanked everyone who voted for the group. “Victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year,” he said. Speaking through an interpreter, he said, “Recently, Ukrainian culture has come under attack, and we are here to prove that Ukrainian culture and music are alive and have a beautiful signature of their own.”

The Kalush Orchestra was considered a favourite, traveling with special permission to bypass a customary law that prevents most Ukrainian men from leaving the country.

The division’s victory over 39 other patriotic acts showed how the Russian invasion of Ukraine united Europe, inspiring a wave of arms and aid shipments to Ukraine, prompting countries like Sweden and Finland are closer to NATO And bring the European Union to About to cut himself of Russian energy.

It highlighted how sweeping Russia’s alienation from the international community has become, extending from foreign ministries through financial markets to the world of culture. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Organizers banned Russian artists from attending the eventciting concerns that Russia’s inclusion could damage the competition’s reputation.

After the win, Irina Shavinska was trying to fix her make-up – including two hearts in the colors of the Ukrainian flag on her cheeks – which had smeared with tears of joy. She came to Turin to report on OGAE UkraineUkrainian fan club Eurovision. She said she had spoken to several other representatives and that: “They all told me they wanted Ukraine to win because it’s important to them too.”

“It’s a great song about mothers,” said Ms. Shavinska, who is also involved with the New York-based nonprofit. Razum for Ukraine. At the media conference later, she asked for a group hug. The band complied.

Eurovision, the world’s largest and perhaps most unusual live music competition, is famous for its participation over the top Shows and her star-making potential – she helped launch acts like Abba and Celine Dion to international fame. But as a show aimed at promoting European unity and cultural exchange, it was not really separated from politics, even though competition rules prevent contestants from making political statements at the event.

In 2005, the song Entering Ukraine was rewritten after it was considered too political, because it celebrated the Orange Revolution. When Dana International, a transgender Israeli woman, won in 1998 her hit song “Diva,” rabbis accused her of flouting the values ​​of the Jewish state.

Ukraine also won the competition in 2016 with “1944, a song by Jamala about the Crimean Tatars during World War II. It was It is also interpreted as a comment employment Russian invasion of Crimeathat took place two years earlier.

And in 2008, Russian pop star Dima Bilan won the Eurovision Award with the song “Believes,” President Vladimir Putin immediately entered the congratulations, thanking him for further polishing Russia’s image.

Russia began competing in the song contest in 1994, participating in it more than 20 times. Its involvement was a cultural touchstone of sorts for Russia’s engagement with the world, and it persisted even as relations between Mr. Putin’s government and much of Europe deteriorated.

Before the final on Saturday, many of bets He said Ukraine was by far the presumptive favorite to win. Winners are decided based on a vote by national juries and in-house viewers.

Carlo Fortes, chief executive of national radio RAI, which hosted the events, said he felt Ukraine would be the preferred candidate. “All European citizens may consider giving a political signal by voting for Ukraine,” he said in an interview earlier this month. “I think it could be a valid signal.”

The war required other adjustments. The Ukrainian commentator on the show, Timur Miroshnichenko, broadcasts from a bomb shelter. a Photo Published by the Ukrainian public broadcaster, Suspilne, it showed the veteran presenter at a desk in a basement-like room, surrounded by computers, wires, a camera and corroded walls that revealed patches of bricks beneath. It was not clear which city he was in.

Miroshnichenko told BBC radio that the bunker had been prepared to prevent disturbances caused by air raid sirens. He said the Ukrainians loved the competition and were “trying to catch any peaceful moment” they could.

Not every Kalush orchestra was in Italy; Slavik Hanatenko, who runs the group’s social media, was fighting in Ukraine. In a recent video interview from Kyiv, Hanatenko said he felt the band’s appearance at Eurovision was “equally important” as his service in the war.

“It’s an opportunity to show the world that our spirit is hard to break,” he said, adding that he had intended to watch the competition, if he wasn’t in a fight and could get a signal on his mobile phone.

In an interview in the days leading up to the competition, Psycyuk said that even if the Kalush Orchestra won, its members would return to Ukraine. He said he ran an organization there to provide people with medicine, transportation, and accommodation. He said he was ready to fight if asked. “We will have no choice,” he added. “We will be in Ukraine.”

He said they would go home after the win. “Like any Ukrainian we are ready to fight and go to the end,” he said.

Looming over the question of where to hold next year’s competition. It is customary for the winner to host the following year’s events. Martin Osterdahl, Executive Producer of the Eurovision Song Contest, handed Oksana Skepinska, head of the Ukrainian delegation, a black dossier containing contact details. “I hope you know where to find us,” said he, speaking through Mrs. Skipinska, who did the translation for him. “We are with you all the way.”

“We will do everything in our power to make Eurovision possible in the new, peaceful Ukraine,” said Skipinska.