Their song, “Stefania”, was written as a tribute to the singer’s mother, but has morphed since the February 24 invasion of Russia into a hymn to the war-torn nation, as the lyrics take on a new meaning. “I will always find my way back, even if all the roads are destroyed,” wrote Oleh Psiuk, leader of the Kalush Orchestra.
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 plan to return as soon as the contest is over.
The winner is chosen equally by panels of music experts in each competing nation and voted on by the public, leaving room for surprise. Britain’s Sam Ryder and Sweden’s Cornelia Jakobs each have a 10% chance of winning while Italian duo Mahmood & Blanco have a 6% chance of winning.
The winner takes home a glass microphone trophy and a potential career boost.
The event is hosted by Italy after Italian rock band Maneskin won last year in Rotterdam. The victory propelled the Rome-based band to international fame, opening for the Rolling Stones and appearing on Saturday Night Live and numerous magazine covers in their typically sexless costume code.
Twenty groups have been chosen in two semi-finals this week and will compete with the Big Five from Italy, Britain, France, Germany and Spain, who have permanent places due to their financial support of the competition.
Russia was excluded this year after its invasion of Ukraine, a move organizers said was intended to exclude politics from the competition that promotes diversity and friendship between nations.