Along with Sweden, Ukraine are truly one of the superpowers of modern Eurovision. Having only entered Eurovision for the first time less than twenty years ago, they’ve racked up two Eurovision wins, a swathe of top 10 results and have the distinction of being the only country to have always qualified for the grand final. They have sent a wide range of genres, they’ve shown innovation and boldness (and often sheer bonkersness) in staging, all while keeping a connection to their own heritage and musical traditions.
For Ukraine, the contest really has been a way of expressing and fostering an identity as a newly independent sovereign nation. That independence and flowering as a nation, as we know, is under brutal threat and I suspect it made Ukraine absolutely determined to be there in Turin. The whole community is delighted that their 2022 artist Kalush Orchestra are there and looking for that third win.
Given what has happened since then, it seems incredible that just a week before the invasion, Ukraine held its national final, which once again, brought its own drama after the show and ended up with a change of artist… Kalush Orchestra won the public vote but finished lower in the jury vote meaning that Alina Pash won with her song “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors”. Subsequently it was then discovered that she had not been wholly truthful on some travel documents to Crimea and of course the sensitity on those issues prompted a disqualification and eventually installing Kalush as the artist. Given their win in the public vote that seems fair, though in hindsight it all seems so terribly unimportant (and Alina has been a vocal supporter of her country’s freedom since the invasion).
So what of the song itself, “Stefania”? Well, my fourth place is no “sympathy vote” – this is another great Ukrainian entry and is in fact in the same position in my ranking as Ukraine last year. It blends modern music with those folk music instruments and sounds. This song also contains rap which usually I can’t stand, but actually it does work even for me when you see this performed live, and rap in Ukrainian sounds a better choice than rap in English in terms of the contest.
We do have a returning artist within the “orchestra” – the folk instrumentalist Ihor Didenchuk from Go_A is a member of the Kalush Orchestra (Kalush himself is the lead singer/rapper in the pink Jamiroquai hat). I love the flute and almost mournful folk sounding chorus combined with a underbeat that uses some from very 1990s house/dance pop sounds. It all comes together so well as a package and the subject of the song – an ode to Kalush’s mother, Stefania, really resonates given what has been happening – so many Ukrainians separated from their mothers and families split up or with people lost in the war.
At the time of writing, Ukraine is the favourite to win in the betting odds. I can see why that is the case though I am far less sure it will actually be the winner. I am sure it will get a big televote – and yes, I am sure some of that may be inspired by what is going on, but before anyone shouts “sympathy vote”, I don’t think voters would vote for something they didn’t at least like or respect and this song would have many fans regardless. So I have little time for those people that whinge it would be an undeserved victory etc.
I do think the juries will be less generous and that’s why I think it will do very well, and easily could be be top 5, but it won’t get enough of both to actually win. The fact Ukraine are there at all is a powerful statement in itself and one hopes Ukraine will remain a core member of the Eurovision family for many years to come.
Ukraine in the Eurovision Song Contest
First entered: 2003
Appearances (excluding this year): 16
Best result: Winner 2004 and 2016
Last year’s result: 5th