Ukraine favorite at the Flashy Eurovision Song Contest Amid War | Entertainment News

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By PAOLO SANTALUCIA and COLLEEN BARRY, Associated Press

TURIN, Italy (AP) — Against the backdrop of war in Europe, the hugely popular Eurovision Song Contest entered its flamboyant climax on Saturday night as 25 bands performed for a live audience in the Italian city of Turin, while that millions of others have watched on television around the world.

Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra are strongly tipped to win by bookmakers, who give the band that mixes traditional Ukrainian rhythms, costumes and dance moves with contemporary hip hop a 60% chance of winning.

Despite Ukraine’s position as a betting and sentimental favorite, fans from Spain, Britain and elsewhere entering the PalaOlimpico site from across Europe were looking for their own country to win.

Still, Ukrainian music fan Iryna Lasiy said she felt global support for her country during the war and “not just for the music”.

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Russia was excluded this year after its invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

The Ukrainian song “Stefania” was written as a tribute to the singer’s mother, but since the war has evolved into a hymn to the beleaguered nation as the lyrics take on new meaning. “I will always find my way back, even if all the roads are destroyed,” wrote Kalush Orchestra leader Oleh Psiuk.

The six-member, all-male band 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.

Back in Ukraine, in the battered northeastern city of Kharkiv, Kalush Orchestra’s participation in the competition is seen as giving the nation another platform to garner international support.

“The whole country is rising up, everyone in the world is supporting us. It’s extremely pleasant,” said Julia Vashenko, a 29-year-old teacher.

“I believe that wherever there is Ukraine now and there is an opportunity to talk about the war, we have to talk,” said Alexandra Konovalova, a 23-year-old make-up artist in Kharkiv. “All competitions are important now, thanks to them more people learn what is happening now.”

Anastasia Khardikova, a 24-year-old Ukrainian living in Sweden, said she intends to vote for the Kalush Orchestra and is persuading her friends abroad to do the same.

The winner is chosen equally by panels of music experts in each competing country 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 was hosted by Italy after local 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.

Barry reported from Milan. Vasilisa Stepanenko contributed from Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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