Opening Ceremony – Eurovision TV
Much of the world’s attention has focused on Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion in late February.
But the country will be in the spotlight on a different world stage on Saturday, when folk-rap group Kalush Orchestra compete in the grand final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2022.
Those side events are inextricably linked, as leader Oleh Psiuk told NPR in a Zoom interview. He said that it is a great responsibility to represent Ukraine and its culture to the world, especially since Russia is actively trying to destroy it.
“We need support to show everyone that our culture is really interesting and has a nice signature of its own,” he said. “It exists, and we have to fight now on all front lines.”
The band is relatively new, but their style and song quickly became iconic.
Kalush Orchestra has become a recognizable fixture of this year’s competition, thanks in large part to its members’ distinctive outfits, dance moves and wind instrument skills.
Her song, “Stefania,” combines rapped verses and a folk choir. Psiuk wrote it about his mother before the war, but it has since taken on a new, more patriotic meaning.
“Many people began to perceive it as if Ukraine was my mother,” he explains. “And in this way the song has been very close to the Ukrainians.”
Psiuk explains that the group’s unique style is present not only in their music, but “in our images, in the concept, in everything we do.”
The six-piece band mixes modern streetwear with traditional clothing, from embroidered vests to Psiuk’s signature pink bucket hat, and incorporates Ukrainian woodwind instruments like the sopilka and telenka.
While the current iteration of the band has only been around since last year, it traces its roots to a three-person rap group called Kalush, which Psiuk helped found in 2019. It is named after his hometown in the western Ivano region. -Frankivsk.
Psiuk’s family is still there. In their few free moments between rehearsals and interviews, they tell him about the missiles flying over his head.
“It’s like a lottery,” he said. “You never know where she’s hitting, so…we’re really looking forward to it.”
Musicians fight for their country on and off stage
The band members are all men of fighting age and had to obtain temporary permits to leave the Ukraine for the competition in Turin, Italy.
One of them, Vlad Kurochka, or MC KylymMen (which translates to CarpetMan) decided to stay in Ukraine, where he has been helping to defend kyiv.
The other musicians will return home immediately after the Eurovision ends, Psiuk said.
He plans to return to the volunteer organization he started called “De Ty” (which translates to “Where are you?”). His approximately 35 volunteers coordinate things like transportation, medicine, and accommodation for people from all over Ukraine, who submit requests through a Telegram channel.
And Psiuk said that while the band can’t focus on creating new music right now, they already have something in the works.
What a Eurovision win would mean for Ukraine
Psiuk hopes the band will return to Ukraine as Eurovision champions, adding that any kind of victory would help boost the country’s morale.
“I would like to bring good news to Ukraine, because good news [hasn’t] a long time in our country,” he said.
He encourages fans watching at home to cast their votes in the Saturday finale and show off the band’s music to their friends. And he hopes his support for Ukraine doesn’t end when the songwriting contest ends.
Psiuk said it’s important for people to attend peaceful demonstrations, post on social media and continue to raise awareness in other ways.
“The more people talk about Ukraine, the faster the war will end and it will not start in other countries,” he said, adding that he is grateful for the support his country has received so far.
It is customary for the country that wins Eurovision to host the following year’s competition. Does Psiuk think that can happen in 2023?
“Yes,” he said emphatically. “I am sure that Ukraine will host the Eurovision, and with great pleasure it will do so in the rebuilt, complete and happy Ukraine.”