Ukraine‘s Kalush Orchestra has won this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, emerging victorious after braving war and destruction in their home country – while Sam Ryder brought home the UK’s best result in years.
The folk rap group Kalush Orchestra stormed to victory with 631 points – 192 points from the national juries and 439 from the public televote – for their song “Stefania”, a track which blends hip hop with traditional Ukrainian music.
The group, who were widely seen as favourites to win, were given special permission to leave Ukraine to travel to the contest as most Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 are not allowed to leave the country in case they are called to fight.
The UK’s Sam Ryder topped the jury vote with 283 points, with a further 183 points from the televote, for a total of 466 – well behind Ukraine, but ahead of third-placed Spain on 459 and Sweden in fourth on 438.
His second-place result ends a run of misery for the UK at the contest, with the nation having seen five last-place finishes since 2003, including a painful nul points finish last year.
Ryder’s triumph marks the UK’s best result since 1997, when Katrina and the Waves claimed the trophy with “Love Shine a Light”.
But winning the 2022 Eurovision trophy is a hugely emotional and symbolic victory for Ukraine in the contest’s 66th year as the conflict continues.
The nation’s president Volodymyr Zelensky responded: “Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe.
“We will do our best to one day host the participants and guests of Eurovision in Ukrainian Mariupol. Free, peaceful, rebuilt.”
Boris Johnson added: “Congratulations to Ukraine for winning the @Eurovision
Song Contest 2022.
“It is a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom.
“Incredibly proud of @SamRyderMusic and how he brilliantly represented the UK tonight.”
Traditionally, the country that wins the contest hosts the next year, but it is unclear whether Ukraine will be able to do so.
Kalush Orchestra rapper Oleh Psiuk told a press conference: “I’m sure that next year, Ukraine will be happy to host Europe in the new integrated and happy Ukraine.”
He added: “Any victory is very meaningful to Ukraine these days. Lately, the Ukrainian culture has been attacked, and we came here to prove that Ukrainian culture and Ukrainian music are alive, and they have their own special and beautiful signature.”
Asked if he would return to fight in Ukraine, the musician added: “In two days’ time, we’re going to be back in Ukraine. It’s hard to say exactly what I’m going to do… but like every Ukrainian, we’re ready to fight as much as we can, and go until the end.”
Dismissing suggestions that the win was simply a sympathy vote, Psiuk added: “Even before the war broke out in Ukraine, it was in the top five, according to the bookmakers. I’ve really enjoyed hearing the song all over Europe, in different countries that we’ve visited, it was so nice to hear the song playing everywhere.”
Russia was banned from taking part in the contest in Turin, Italy, which opened with a musical message of peace that was echoed by the hosts as Ukraine claimed the trophy.
Human rights campaigners said the win is deeper than the winning song and represents the victory of compassion over hatred.
Sonya Sceats, chief executive at Freedom From Torture, a charity providing specialist psychological therapy to help asylum seekers and refugees who have survived torture recover and rebuild their lives in the UK, told i the win is a victory for unity.
“Tonight’s result is a testament to the incredible solidarity shown by the people of Europe to those affected by Russian war crimes in Ukraine,” she said.
“While populist demagogues and cynical politicians have preached xenophobia and division, ordinary people from Poland to Portsmouth have welcomed those fleeing the conflict with open arms.
“More than anything, Ukraine’s victory tonight shows that there is more that unites us than divides us and that kindness and compassion will always triumph over hate.”
Oleh Psiuk, rapper and frontman of Kalush Orchestra, told i he would return to fight for his country within days of performing live in front of a TV audience of 180 million people.
He said the win would raise the morale of Ukrainians and make people happy by proving that their culture is alive.
Kalush Orchestra is made up of rapper Oleh Psiuk, multi-instrumentalist Ihor Didenchuk, dancer Vlad Kurochka, sopilka player Vitalii Duzhyk, and vocalists Tymofii Muzychuk and Oleksandr Slobodianyk.
They combine traditional Ukrainian folk music with modern rap and hip hop, creating a unique sound.
The song “Stefania” was originally written to honour Oleh Psiuk’s mother. But in light of the war, the lyrics strike a chord as a tribute to Ukraine as a motherland – with lines that translate to: “You can’t take my willpower from me, as I got it from her” and “I’ll always find my way home, even if the roads are destroyed.”
Russia chose not to compete in the 2017 contest, which was held in Kyiv, after their entrant was banned from entering the country, but this year marks the first time the country was forcibly removed by organisers.
Eurovision winners are voted through a mixture of public votes and expert juries from each country.
The contest made a comeback last year after the 2020 event was cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ukraine last won the contest in 2016, with Jamala taking the top spot.