Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision Song Contest in Italy on Saturday with its entry “Stefania,” riding a wave of public support to claim an emotional victory that was welcomed by the country’s president.
Sung in Ukrainian, the winning song fused rap with traditional folk music and was a tribute to the mother of the band’s leader, Oleh Psiuk.
Bookmakers had made the Kalush Orchestra the clear favorite for the annual competition, which normally draws a TV audience of around 200 million, in part because of popular sympathy for Ukraine after Russia’s invasion in February.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was quick to offer his congratulations.
“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe! Next year Ukraine will host the Eurovision Song Contest,” he said in an online message. The winners traditionally get to host the event the following year.
“I thank the Kalush Orchestra for this victory and everyone who gave us their votes! I am sure that the sound of victory in the battle against the enemy is not far away,” he added.
Ukraine ranked fourth according to the jury’s vote, but claimed victory with a commanding lead in the viewers’ vote. Sam Ryder from Great Britain finished second, while Chanel from Spain finished third.
It is the third time Ukraine has won the annual competition.
The gang leader advocated for the city of Mariupol and its Azovstal plant at the end of his appearance.
“Please help Ukraine, Mariupol. Help Azovstal right now,” Psiuk shouted from the front of the stage.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the contest, said no action would be taken against the band for using the stage to make a statement.
“We understand the deep feelings around Ukraine at this time and believe that the comments by the Kalush Orchestra and other artists expressing support for the Ukrainian people are more humanitarian in nature than political,” the EBU said in a statement.