From Lviv to Jerusalem, Ukraine’s Eurovision act sends message of defiance

Visiting Israel and performing for Ukrainian refugees, members of the Kalush Orchestra, heavily favored to win this year’s international song contest, make their country’s case

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Kalush Orchestra, Ukraine's 2022 Eurovision act, film a clip at the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem on April 5, 2022. (Amy Spiro/Times of Israel)
Kalush Orchestra, Ukraine's 2022 Eurovision act, film a clip at the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem on April 5, 2022. (Amy Spiro/Times of Israel)

Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra likely never imagined it would film its “postcard” video for the 2022 Eurovision Contest at a Jewish Agency building in downtown Jerusalem.

But on Tuesday afternoon, the six colorful members of the rap group that will represent Ukraine at this year’s contest in Turin, Italy, assembled in front of a green screen in the same room where Chaim Weizmann was sworn in as Israel’s first president and filmed a clip that will introduce them at the international song contest.

Previously, the members of Kalush Orchestra were not even certain they would be able to perform live in Turin in May, as war ravages their homeland and men of military age are barred from exiting the country.

“At first we spent all the time rehearsing online, because due to the war it was impossible to come together,” the band’s founder and frontman, Oleh Psiuk, told reporters in Jerusalem on Tuesday via a translator.

But Psiuk said that with assistance from the Ukrainian public broadcaster, “the permit was granted for us to leave the country and to go back and forth, and this is how we got to Israel.”

This week, Kalush Orchestra is joining 24 other Eurovision entrants for “Israel Calling,” an annual event that invites participating musical acts to tour the country for several days. It will culminate in a live concert in Tel Aviv Thursday evening.

The members of the group reunited in Lviv, western Ukraine, on Saturday for a live outdoor show, their first time performing together since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. From there they made their way to Poland, and flew to Israel with assistance from the Jewish Agency. Members of the band said that they will use their pre-Eurovision promotional tours and their international exposure to share a message with the world – and to solicit donations for Ukraine.

“Our message is that everybody in every country can do and should do at least something, every day, to make this war stop,” Psiuk said on Tuesday. “Everybody has social media, everybody has accounts on social media where they can write about this, speak up about this, write about stopping the war. By doing this, we can all together bring the end to this war sooner, and prevent anything like this from happening in any other country.”

On most other years, each Eurovision competitor flies to the host country to film a so-called “postcard” clip highlighting a locale in that nation. With COVID complicating matters, this year’s entrants are all filming their clips at home in front of green screens, but Kalush was unable to do so until now due to the war.

After filming their clip on Tuesday, the members of Kalush Orchestra performed at the Jewish Agency for a group of 50 Ukrainian immigrant youths living at an immigrant absorption center in Karmiel, in Israel’s north. About half of the young adults, ranging in age from 17 to 21, came to Israel as refugees in the past few weeks. Others immigrated in October, long before the war, most leaving family members behind.

Later Tuesday, Kalush Orchestra gave a concert in Jerusalem for 200 Ukrainian refugees. They were also slated to meet with Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a native of Kharkiv, Ukraine.

The band’s Eurovision song, “Stefania,” has become a rallying cry for many Ukrainians. On Tuesday afternoon, the new Ukrainian immigrants to Israel eagerly sang and clapped along to the song, whose Ukrainian lyrics include lines such as “I’ll always find my way home, even if all roads are destroyed.”

Alex, a 17-year-old refugee who arrived in Israel last month from Ukraine, leaving his mother and younger sister behind, said it was “so cool” to get a chance to meet Kalush Orchestra.

Kalush Orchestra, Ukraine’s 2022 Eurovision act, perform for young Ukrainian new immigrants to Israel at the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem on April 5, 2022. (Amy Spiro/Times of Israel)

Sonia Yevgeniyeva, 19, a native of Kyiv who arrived in Israel in October and whose brother joined her last month, was excited to spend time with members of the musical group.

“They have a really popular song, we all know them,” Yevgeniyeva said. “We all really like their music. My friend from Kyiv, I texted him and I said ‘I will meet with Kalush!’ and he said ‘Wow!’ It’s really cool that we can talk with them and see them.”

According to the often-accurate Eurovision betting odds sites, Kalush Orchestra is heavily favored to win this year’s competition, shooting to the top of the rankings following Russia’s invasion, as geopolitics comes into play in the song contest.

If Kalush Orchestra were to win this year, Yevgeniyeva said, “It would mean so much… culture is a big part of politics too, I think, and to win Eurovision would [bring] really, really great emotions for all of us.”

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