June 6, 2023

Kalush Orchestra says President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is banned from speaking at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, would only have wanted to thank the British people for hosting the contest if he had been allowed to speak at the grand final.

The Ukrainian leader was rejected by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) – the group of national public broadcasters that Eurovision — for fear that his message would “politicize” the contest.

Tymofii Muzychuk, who plays the signature pipe in Stephania, the band’s winning anthem in 2022, commented on the decision, telling PA news agency: “Actually, we think President Zelensky would have wanted to thank all the British people for doing this and, as we can see, Britain took this very responsibly, the UK.

“And so actually I think it would have been nice for him to talk.”

On Friday, the EBU said the Ukrainian president had “laudable intentions” but “unfortunately” his request was against the rules.

“The Eurovision Song Contest is an international entertainment show and is governed by strict rules and principles established since its inception,” it said.

As part of this, one of the cornerstones of the competition is the non-political nature of the event.

“This principle prohibits the possibility of making political or similar statements as part of the competition.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak criticized the decisionsaid he was “disappointed” by the move, but suggested there are no plans to ask the EBU to change its mind.

Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer and former Prime Minister Boris Johnson also spoke out in support of Mr Zelenskyy, who had wanted to make an unannounced video appearance and was expected to beg the global public of millions to continue to support his country in its fight to the Russian invaders.

The Ukrainian rap-folk group Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision song contest in Turin, Italy, last year
The band won last year’s Eurovision song contest in Turin, Italy

Liverpool hosts this year’s event on behalf of Ukraine, which won last year because the war-torn country is unable to do so.

Kalush Orchestra, now tasked with opening this year’s competition, will perform an adaptation of their hit titled Voices Of A New Generation. They say they hope their performance will make viewers want to “continue to support” their homeland.

It’s a haunting and powerful opening they’ll deliver, as Sky News got to see in a special closed rehearsal.

The song – which mixes rap with elements of Ukrainian folk music – immediately recalls the lives lost in the war and the endangered Ukrainian traditions.

The band’s frontman, Oleh Psiuk, told Sky News through a translator: “Thanks to Eurovision you have the chance to see Ukraine from different aspects.

“We have all kinds of different music genres in our country. Ukraine is rich in different kinds of music.”

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Kalush Orchestra about their hopes for Eurovision 2023

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Eleven Ukrainian artists perform during the ceremony itself, with Ukrainian motifs and Ukrainian identity taking center stage throughout the night.

While Psiuk admits he was “upset” that it was not safe for Ukraine to host, he said he was grateful Liverpool stepped in.

“Obviously we were a little upset, but at the same time we want to express our deep, deep gratitude to the UK for having decided [to take on] this responsibility to host the Eurovision Song Contest on behalf of Ukraine… We are so excited.”

Ukraine’s hopes this year rest on the shoulders of Tvorchi’s Heart Of Steel.

Psiuk hopes the electronic duo will take two wins in a row or move to “at least the top” of the standings.

“We think they have a pretty good chance of winning,” he says.

“Unfortunately we haven’t had the opportunity to meet them yet, but we hope… We will be able to meet them [to] advise them from our previous experience from last year.”

The rapper’s message to viewers is simple: “Don’t forget Ukraine, keep supporting [us].”

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In the meantime, Eurovision fans are faced with travel problems as a result of a walk-out by railway workers in a long-running wage dispute.

Asle members from more than a dozen train operators went on strike on Friday, hitting anyone with tickets for the second dress rehearsal, and members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union went on strike on Saturday – the day of the grand finale.

Passengers are urged to check their route before departing.

Sky News will be in Liverpool to cover all the biggest news from the game.