Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision Song Contest in the early hours of Sunday in a clear show of support for the war-ravaged nation.
The six-member band that mixes traditional folk melodies and contemporary hip hop in a purposeful defence of Ukrainian culture was the sentimental and bookmakers’ favourite among the 25 bands and performers competing in the grand finale. The public vote from home was decisive in securing their victory.
Oleg Psiuk, the band’s frontman, took advantage of the enormous global audience to make impassioned plea to free fighters still trapped beneath a sprawling steel plant in the southern port city of Mariupol following the band’s performance.
“I ask all of you, please help Ukraine, Mariupol. Help Azovstal, right now,” Psiuk said to the live crowd of some 7,500, many of whom gave a standing ovation, and global television audience of millions.
The plea to free the remaining Ukrainian fighters trapped beneath the Azovstal plant by Russians served as a sombre reminder that the hugely popular and at times flamboyant Eurovision song contest was being played out against the backdrop of a war on Europe’s eastern flank.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave signs that he was watching from Kyiv, and rooting for Ukrainian band.
“Indeed, this is not a war, but nevertheless, for us today, any victory is very important,” Zelensky said, according to a presidential statement. “So, let’s cheer for ours. Glory be to Ukraine!”