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Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed Ukraine’s victory in the Eurovision Song Contest, saying his war-torn country would do its best to host next year’s final in the beleaguered port city of Mariupol.

After Kalush Orchestra won Saturday night’s competition in a show of popular support for the nation that went beyond music, Ukraine’s president responded with a message on Telgram saying, “Our courage impresses the world, our music conquer Europe! Next year, Ukraine will host Eurovision!

“We will do our best to welcome Eurovision participants and guests to Ukrainian Mariupol one day. Free, peaceful, rebuilt! I am sure that our victorious agreement in the battle with the enemy is not far away.

Kalush Orchestra leader Oleh Psiuk earlier took advantage of the huge global audience, which numbered more than 180 million last year, to deliver an impassioned plea on stage to the free fighters still trapped beneath the sprawling steelworks of Azovstal in Mariupol.

“Help Azovstal, now,” Psiuk implored.

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 their support for the Ukrainian people are humanitarian rather than political in nature,” the EBU said.

Zelenskiy Hails Ukraine’s Eurovision Win, Plans to Host Mariupol Final “One Day” |  Ukraine
The Kalush Orchestra celebrates its victory at the Eurovision Song Contest 2022 in Turin. Photography: Giorgio Perottino/Getty Images

The song Stefania by Kalush Orchestra was the favorite of sentimentalists and bookmakers among the 25 performers competing in the grand finale. Public voting at home, by text message or via the Eurovision app, proved decisive, lifting them above British TikTok star Sam Ryder, who led after national juries from 40 countries voted .

The 439 fan votes represent the most television voting points ever received in a Eurovision contest, which is in its 66th year. Psiuk thanked the Ukrainian diaspora and “and everyone around the world who voted for Ukraine… The victory is very important for Ukraine. Especially this year.”

Kalush Orchestra is a cultural project that includes folklore experts and mixes traditional folk melodies and contemporary hip-hop in a deliberate defense of Ukrainian culture. This has become all the more salient as Russia, through its invasion, has sought to falsely assert that Ukrainian culture is not unique.

“We are here to show that Ukrainian culture and Ukrainian music are alive, and have their own very special signature,” Psuik told reporters.

The call for the release of the remaining Ukrainian fighters trapped under the Azovstal factory by the Russians served as a grim reminder that the hugely popular and sometimes flamboyant Eurovision song contest was being played against the backdrop of a war on the eastern flank from Europe.

The Azov Battalion, which is among the last 1,000 defenders of the factory, sent their thanks from the maze of tunnels under the factory, posting on Telegram: “Thank you Kalush Orchestra for your support! Glory to Ukraine!”

The all-male group, consisting of six members, received special permission to leave the country to represent Ukraine and Ukrainian culture in the music competition. One of the original members stayed to fight, and the others will be back in Ukraine in two days when their temporary exit permits expire.

Before heading to Italy, Psiuk ran a volunteer organization he started at the start of the war that uses social media to help find transportation and shelter for people in need.

“It’s hard to say what I’m going to do, because it’s the first time I’ve won Eurovision,” Psuik said. “Like any Ukrainian, I am ready to fight and go all the way.”

Zelenskiy Hails Ukraine’s Eurovision Win, Plans to Host Mariupol Final “One Day” |  Ukraine
Ukrainian soldiers react to the victory of the Kalush Orchestra. Photo: Valentin Ogirenko/Reuters

In a basement north of kyiv, a group of soldiers happily watching the event also hoped that next year’s final would be held in Mariupol.

“We had a victory: today in Eurovision, but soon we will have a victory in the war between Ukraine and Russia,” said Tetyana, a military doctor, standing in the basement decorated with paintings for children of the Ukrainian flag and signs “Glory to Ukraine”. on them.

The tired but happy-looking servicemen had sat around a screen, some tapping rhythmically on their knees as Kalush performed, and when the winner was announced, they clapped and clapped happily.

“We will also win,” said Vitaliy, a soldier. “We showed that we can not only fight, but we can sing really well. “The next Eurovision we will host in liberated Mariupol.”

In Italy, around 30 Ukrainians gathered at a bar in Milan to watch the show, many wearing shiny bucket hats like the one Psiuk is sporting, in support of the group.

“We are so happy that he called to help save the people of Mariupol,” lawyer Zoia Stankovska said on the broadcast. “Oh, this win brings so much hope.”

Ukrainian commentator Timur Miroshnichenko, who does the live voiceover for Ukraine’s Eurovision broadcast, was participating from a basement at an undisclosed location, rather than from his usual television studio.

“On the fifth or fourth day of the war, they shot at our television tower in kyiv,” he said. To continue broadcasting, “we had to move underground somewhere in Ukraine.”

Broadcasting of Eurovision in Ukraine was extensive, online and on TV, he said.

“This year, I think, is more symbolic than ever,” Miroshnichenko said.

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