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Kalush Orchestra represents Ukraine to the world: NPR

Members of the Kalush Orchestra have been given special permission to leave Ukraine, and will return as soon as Eurovision ends. One stayed behind to help protect Kyiv.

Opening Ceremony – Eurovision TV


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Opening Ceremony – Eurovision TV


Members of the Kalush Orchestra have been given special permission to leave Ukraine, and will return as soon as Eurovision ends. One stayed behind to help protect Kyiv.

Opening Ceremony – Eurovision TV

Much of the world’s attention has been focused on Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion in late February.

But this country will be the focus on another world stage on Saturday, when Folk rap group Kalush Orchestra compete in the grand final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2022.

Those parallel events are closely linked, as head Oleh Psiuk told NPR in an interview with Zoom. He said that there is a great responsibility to represent Ukraine and its culture to the world, especially when Russia is actively seeking to destroy it.

“We need support to show people that our culture is really interesting and has a beautiful signature of its own,” he said. “It exists, and we must fight now on all fronts.”

The band is relatively new, but their style and songs are quickly becoming iconic

The Kalush Orchestra has become a recognizable fixture of this year’s competition, largely thanks to its members’ Special costumes, dance moves and wind instrument skills.

Its song, “Stefania,” combines rap verses and a folk chorus. Psiuk wrote it about his mother before the war, but since then it has taken on a new, more patriotic meaning.

“Many people are starting to feel that Ukraine is my mother,” he explains. “And in this way, the song was very close to the Ukrainian people.”

Psiuk explained that the group’s unique style manifests not only in the music but also “in our image, in our concept, in whatever we do.”

The six-member band combines modern streetwear with traditional attire, from embroidered vests to Psiuk’s signature pink bucket hat, and paired with Ukrainian wind instruments such as the sopilka and telenka.

While the band’s current iteration has only been around since last year, it has its roots in a three-man rap group called Kalush, which Psiuk helped form in 2019. It’s named after his hometown in the western region of Ivano-Frankivsk.

Psiuk’s family is still there. In the few spare moments between rehearsals and interviews, they told him about rockets flying overhead.

“It’s like a lottery,” he said. “You never know where it hits, so … we’re very nervous.”

The Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine sings “Stefania” during rehearsal at the Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy on May 9.

Luca Bruno / AP


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Luca Bruno / AP


The Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine sings “Stefania” during rehearsal at the Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy on May 9.

Luca Bruno / AP

Musicians fight for their country on and off stage

The band’s members are all men of combat age and must obtain temporary permits to leave Ukraine for Turin, Italy.

One of them, Vlad Kurochka, or MC KylymMen (roughly translated as CarpetMan) has chosen to stay in Ukraine, where he is helping to protect Kyiv.

Other musicians will return home as soon as Eurovision ends, Psiuk said.

He plans to return to the volunteer organization he founded called “De Ty” (roughly translated as “Where are you”). Its about 35 volunteers coordinate things like transportation, medicine and accommodation for people across Ukraine, who submit requests via the Telegram channel.

And Psiuk said that while the band can’t focus on creating new music at the moment, they do have some work in progress.

What winning Eurovision means for Ukraine

Psiuk hopes the band will return to Ukraine as Eurovision champions, adding that any victory would help lift the country’s morale.

“I want to bring some good news to Ukraine, because good news [hasn’t] been in our country for a long time,” he said.

He encouraged fans watching at home to vote on Saturday’s finale and perform the band’s music for their friends. And he hopes their support for Ukraine won’t just end with the songwriting contest.

Psiuk said it’s important for people to attend peaceful protests, post on social media and continue to raise awareness in other ways.

“The more people talk about Ukraine, the quicker the war will end and it won’t start in other countries,” he said, adding that he is grateful for the support his country has received so far. .

As is customary, the winning country of Eurovision will host the competition next year. Does Psiuk think that could happen in 2023?

“Yes,” he said emphatically. “I am sure that Ukraine will host Eurovision, and will be delighted to do so in a rebuilt, whole and happy Ukraine.”

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