His song, titled “Stefania”, was written by the group’s leader Oleh Psiuk, a 27-year-old rapper, as a tribute to his mother.
But this song chosen in February to represent Ukraine at Eurovision, so before the start of the Russian invasion, has taken on new meaning when the country has been at war for almost three months. Lyrics like “I’ll still find the way home even if all the roads are destroyed” take on a special resonance.
The group, which received a standing ovation on Tuesday after reaching the semi-finals, are seen by bookmakers as one of the favorites for Saturday’s final.
“We feel like we’re on a mission here, because as we speak Ukrainian culture is being destroyed,” Oleh Psiuk told AFP.
“But it’s our role to show that she is alive and well, and that she has so much to offer. She is unique, she truly represents every suffering Ukrainian in the world today.”
Although considered apolitical, the world’s largest song contest, watched by tens of millions of viewers each year, inevitably reflects the geopolitical tensions of the moment. This year, Russia, which has been taking part since 1994, was excluded by the organizers the day after its invasion of Ukraine.
– Eurovision 2023 in Ukraine? –
The all-male, six-member Kalush Orchestra (Oleh Psiuk, Ihor Didenchuk, Tymofii Muzychuk, Vitalii Duzhyk, Oleksandr Slobodianyk and MC KylymMen) is the successor to the hip-hop group founded by Psiuk, Kalush, named his hometown in Western Ukraine.
It incorporates traditional folk music instruments like the telenka and the sopilka, two flute-like wind instruments.
Donning richly embroidered traditional clothing, the group is also instantly recognizable thanks to the bubblegum-pink hat worn by Psiuk and MC KylymMen’s multicolored ethnic rug-patterned one-piece suit.
But it is above all the sound of Kalush Orchestra, which “mixes old folk music and even forgotten sounds with elements of super modern hip-hop rap that everyone understands”, which makes the group unique, said Oleh Psiuk during a press conference last week.
To win Eurovision, the Kalush Orchestra will have to beat the other 24 finalists by collecting the maximum number of votes from professionals in the music world and the public in each country, who cannot vote for their own candidate.
In case of victory, the next edition of the contest should be held in Ukraine, which would be in the words of Oleh Psiuk “a new, integrated, developed and flourishing Ukraine”.
Although a member of the group remained in Ukraine to defend Kyiv, according to Oleh Psiuk, the Ukrainian government gave the group special permission to perform at Eurovision.
“That’s why we want to be as useful as possible for our country,” Psiuk told reporters. “Representing your country matters at all times, but representing it in times of war matters even more, it’s a big responsibility for us.”
According to him, all members will return to Ukraine immediately after the end of the competition to resume their lives. In their press kit, distributed before the start of the competition, it is also specified that “they will be authorized to leave for the final on May 14, but they must return the following day, as men of combat”.