At Eurovision 2022, Ukrainian orchestra Kalush takes center stage in Turin, Italy

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When Ukrainian singer Oleh Psiuk first penned the folk-rap mash-up ‘Stefania,’ he had no idea the song, which originally paid homage to his mother, would end up as an ode to war. popular in Ukraine.

But now ‘Stefania’, performed by Psiuk’s band Kalush Orchestra, is favorite to win Eurovision 2022, the world’s biggest TV music competition. The group performed the song during the first round of the semi-finals of the competition on Tuesday night in Turin, Italy, and were one of 10 acts who qualified for the Grand Final later this week.

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“Rap, looped flute, bob, break dance, sequined cardigan. We will never be as cool as Kalush Orchestra”, the Eurovision Twitter account posted tuesday after the group performance.

Psiuk, 27, rapped in his signature pink bucket hat while a bandmate played the Ukrainian flute.

“I will always find my way back, even if all the roads are destroyed,” he sang. “And my will cannot be taken from me, for she gave it.”

Psiuk said the words of “Stefania” resonated with Ukrainians struggling with the suffering caused by the war in Russia.

“Some things here were written long before the war, and they were dedicated to my mother,” he said. told the Associated Press. “After it all started with the war and the hostilities, it took on extra meaning, and a lot of people started to see it as their mother, Ukraine, in the sense of the country.”

Ukraine has banned most men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country, but authorities granted Psiuk and his comrades special permission to travel to Italy for the competition.

If Kalush Orchestra – which mixes hip-hop and Ukrainian folk dance – wins the Eurovision final on Saturday, Ukraine wins the right to host the 2023 contest. The competition, first held in 1956, attracts votes of the public and, although its organizers within the European Broadcasting Union presented it as a “non-political” event, it often reflected the political dynamics of its time.

In fact, the band replaced original Ukraine act Alina Pash earlier this year due to an investigation into a 2015 visit Pash made to Crimea, the peninsula Moscow annexed in 2014. And after the Kremlin launched its war against Ukraine, Russia was banned from this year’s contest.

In 2016, Crimean Tatar singer Jamala’s Ukrainian entry marked Ukraine’s second Eurovision win. When the competition was held the following year in the Ukrainian capital, kyiv, Russia was not allowed to participate.

Armenia and Georgia were among contenders for withdrawal in recent years due to tensions with other countries, while the victory of bearded Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst in 2014 sparked debates over LGBTQ rights.

Annabelle Chapman contributed to this report.

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