The band members posed for photos outside their Turin hotel on Sunday and signed autographs on their way to an interview with Italian host broadcaster RAI. They will have to return to Ukraine on Monday after receiving special permission to leave the country to participate in the competition.
Russia was banned from the Eurovision Song Contest this year after the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, the organizers of a move to keep politics out of the competition, which promotes diversity and friendship among nations.
But politics came to the fore nonetheless, with Kalush frontman Oleh Siuk concluding his winning performance on Sunday night with a request from the stage: “I urge all of you, please help Ukraine, Mariupol. Help Azovstal now! ” He said the strategic port referred to the besieged steel plant in the city.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the victory, hoping that Ukraine would be able to host the competition next year, and predicted that “victory in the war with the enemy is not far off.”
“Stefania” was written by lead singer Siuk as a tribute to her mother, but since the Russian invasion it has become a national anthem, with the promise: “I will always find my way home, even if all the roads are destroyed.”
In the new music video, female soldiers pick up children from a bombed-out building, greet children at a shelter, and drop them off as they board a train. Video credits say it was shot in cities that have seen some of the worst devastation of the war, including Bucha, Irpin, Borodianka and Hostomail.
The video was clearly made before the band left Ukraine because the band members and – probably – the actors were playing in the rubble.
“I dedicate myself to the brave Ukrainian people, to the mothers who protect their children, to all those who gave their lives for our freedom,” it says.
The Kalush Orchestra incorporates folklore experts and blends traditional folk tunes and contemporary hip-hop in a strong defense of Ukrainian culture that has taken on extra meaning because Russia has falsely claimed that Ukrainian culture is not unique.
In an early Sunday press conference after the competition, Psiuk said in his trademark pink bucket hat that the victory was particularly significant because of the war and public support that pushed Ukraine to victory.
“We are here to show that Ukrainian culture and Ukrainian music are alive, and have their own and very special signature,” Psuik said.
Winfield reports from Rome.