Ukraine’s Eurovision act wants to bring home some good news

by | May 13, 2022 | Top Stories

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The members of Kalush Orchestra were granted special permission to leave Ukraine, and will return immediately after Eurovision ends. One stayed behind to help defend Kyiv.

Opening Ceremony – Eurovision TV

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Opening Ceremony – Eurovision TV

Much of the world’s attention has been focused on Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion in late February. But the country will take the spotlight on a different kind of world stage on Saturday, when folk-rap group Kalush Orchestra competes in the grand final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2022.

Those parallel events are inextricably linked, as frontman Oleh Psiuk told NPR in a Zoom interview. He said it’s a huge responsibility to represent Ukraine and its culture to the world, especially as Russia is actively trying to destroy it. “We need support to show everybody that our culture is really interesting and has a nice signature of its own,” he said. “It exists, and we have to fight now at all of the front lines.” The band is relatively new, but its 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. Its song, “Stefania,” combines rapped verses and a folk chorus. 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 like Ukraine is my mother,” he explains. “And this way the song has been very close to Ukrainian people.” Psiuk explains that the group’s unique style is present not only in its music, but “in our images, in the concept, in anything we do.” The six-person 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 has its roots in a three-person rap group called Kalush, which Psiuk helped found in 2019. It’s named after his hometown in the western region of Ivano-Frankivsk.

Psiuk’s family is still there. In his few spare moments between rehearsals and interviews, they tell him about the missiles flying overhead. “It’s like a lottery,” he said. “You never know where it strikes, so … we are very anxious.”

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Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine singing “Stefania” performs during rehearsals at the Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy on May 9.

Luca Bruno/AP

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