Europeans threw their support behind the battered country at music contest; UK comes in second.
TURIN, Italy - While battling Russian invasion at home for the third month, Ukraine emerged victorious from Europe's Eurovision music competition.
Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra, swept up in a wave of solidarity, achieved a record popular vote after performing a catchy folk-rap song and broadcasting an emotional plea for the bombed-out city of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine. Russia shells Azovstal Steelworks in Mariupol, a strategic port city that has been under siege for more than two months. About 500 Ukrainian fighters were trapped at the factory in the recent resistance nose.
Watched by almost 200 million viewers worldwide, Ukraine's triumph in Europe's long-running music competition is more than a prize for talent: it has special political significance. As NATO diplomats met in Germany this weekend, the military alliance's deputy chief called Ukraine's victory in Turin a testament to the country's bravery and a rebuke for the "most brutal and cynical war" in the history of Russia's President Vladimir Putin since President Vladimir Putin Second World War .
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"So I say that we are united. We are strong and we will continue to help Ukraine win this war," said NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană.
European politicians also took to Twitter to hail the victory. European Parliament President Roberta Metsola has promised to travel to Kyiv for next year's Eurovision Song Contest, while Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas saw the victory as yet another sign of Europe's steadfast support for Ukraine.
The overwhelming popular support for the Eurovision competition also came despite energy sanctions against Russia, which are increasingly draining Europeans' wallets.
The success of Ukraine
A tribute to lead singer Oleh Psiuk's mother, the Ukrainian folk-rap song became a rallying cry for Ukraine in the midst of the Russian war. With a whopping 631 points, Ukraine is far ahead of the other competitors. The country received 439 points, the highest score from the audience in Eurovision history.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the Eurovision contest, banned Russia from participating in this year's event the day after its invasion of Ukraine. While the panel had previously disqualified songs for being overtly political, the last time it evicted a country was in 1993, nearly 30 years ago.
The Kalush Orchestra received special permission to leave Ukraine to perform at the European music competition. A member of the gang stayed behind to fight at the front. The group is expected to return in two days. As a volunteer in the country's war effort, the Psiuk leader said he had to help people find shelter, transportation, and medicine.
"Like all Ukrainians, we will fight and fight to the end," Psiuk said at a press conference after the win.
More than two thousand kilometers away from the standing ovation in Turin, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has promised to host next year's Eurovision competition in a free, peaceful and rebuilt country. He suggested inviting fans and candidates to Mariupol “one day”.
The European Broadcasting Union, organizer of the competition, was more cautious, emphasizing the "unique challenges" of hosting Eurovision.
The UK defied the odds to finish second after bottoming out last year with zero points. The country received the highest ratings from EU members including France, Belgium, Germany and Austria.
"We scored more points today than we have in the last 10 years," said Mike, 54, of Nottingham, happily in his Union Jack jacket. "No one believed this would happen after Brexit."