Ukraine won the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest in Italy on Saturday night. The country was represented by hip hop act Kalush Orchestra with the song “Stefania,” a tribute to lead singer Oleh Psiuk’s mother Stefania, which merges Ukrainian folklore with rap.
The U.K. came second thanks to Sam Ryder, already a viral sensation with 12.5 million Tik Tok fans, who performed the track “Space Man.”
Both Ukraine, which is currently under siege from its neighbor Russia, and the U.K. were hotly tipped to make an appearance in the top three. 25 countries competed in total in the contest, which was hosted in the Italian city of Turin.
Ukraine last won in 2016 and hosted the contest the following year in capital city Kyiv.
Votes are cast by all forty countries competing in the contest, all of whom are members (or, in the case of Australia, associate members) of the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the competition.
Each country’s final score is a combination of a jury vote (with each country awarded 1 to twelve points) and a phone-in from the public. Both the jury and public are forbidden from voting for their own country.
Although ostensibly about the music, the voting is often understood to have political overtones, with many countries often voting for their closest geographical neighbors.
While Ukraine scored moderately in the jury vote, with a total of 192 points, the country was pushed into number one position with an unprecedented 439 points from the public. It is believed to be the highest number of points ever awarded by the public vote and is symbolic of the support the country has from the rest of Europe in its war with Russia.
The victory certainly garnered widespread praise, with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson congratulating the country on Twitter. “It is a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom,” Johnson tweeted.
And while the band said backstage that they had not yet had an opportunity to speak to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian leader took to Instagram to congratulate them, writing: “Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe! Next year Ukraine will host Eurovision! For the third time in its history. And I believe – not the last. We will do our best to one day host the participants and guests of Eurovision in Ukrainian Mariupol. Free, peaceful, rebuilt! Thank you for winning @Kalush.official and everyone who voted for us! I am sure that our victorious chord in the battle with the enemy is not far off. Glory to Ukraine!”
The U.K. scored 466 points, a sum that included the top mark of 12 points from the Ukranian, German and French jury votes. Despite not winning the contest, it was viewed as a huge improvement on the previous year’s entry, when the U.K. came last out of 26 countries with zero points.
Ukraine’s victory was all the more moving because, the band revealed, they had not had the opportunity to rehearse in person until they arrived in Italy two weeks ago. “It’s been quite stressful to be honest,” said Kalush Orchestra lead singer Oleh Psiuk, who was wearing his trademark pink bucket hat, in a press conference backstage after the show.
During the press conference Psiuk also took the opportunity to voice his thanks towards all those who voted for him. “I want to thank everybody, every Ukrainian, [the] Ukrainian diaspora, and everyone around the world who voted for Ukraine and helped us bring this victory to Ukraine,” he said. “The victory is very important for Ukraine especially this year. So thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine.”
In response to a question from the press corps about whether Psiuk was planning to return to fight in Ukraine following his band’s victory, the rapper explained the band had been given temporary authorization to attend Eurovision since men of military age are currently forbidden from leaving Ukraine. (Ukrainian commentator Timur Miroshnychenko was unable to join the other European commentators at the stadium in Turin, instead broadcasting from a bomb shelter in his home country).
Psiuk said the temporary authorization expired would expire on May 16 when the band would return to Ukraine. “It’s hard to say what exactly I’m going to do because this is the first time I won the Eurovision Song Contest but anyway, like every Ukrainian we’re ready to fight as much as we can and to go on till the end.”