At Eurovision 2022, Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra qualifies for Grand Final in Turin, Italy

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“I’ll always come to you, by broken roads.” Ukrainian singer Oleh Psiuk first rapped these words as an ode to his mother, but when his band, Kalush Orchestra, performed Tuesday at Eurovision, the lyrics resonated differently.

Now the folk-rap mash-up, “Stefania,” is a favorite to win Eurovision 2022, the world’s longest-running televised music contest and Europe’s most popular, which draws on votes from the public, mostly on the continent.

The Ukrainian contender was one of 10 acts that qualified for the Grand Final at the first round of semifinals in Turin, Italy, after becoming the most-watched on YouTube among this year’s 40 national entries.

For 27-year-old Psiuk, the song has transformed into a tribute to Ukraine, and the stage into a way to remind people of Russia’s war on his country. “If we win, it will be another opportunity to show Ukraine to the world, to remind people about Ukraine, and to increase morale in the whole country,” he told the BBC.

The frontman rapped in his pink bucket hat on Tuesday as a bandmate played a flute. While some of the lyrics were written before the war, they have taken on “additional meaning,” he told the Associated Press earlier. “Many people started seeing it as their mother, Ukraine, in the meaning of the country.”

Ukrainian has imposed martial law banning most men age 18 to 60 from leaving the country in anticipation that they may be called to fight, but authorities gave Psiuk and his band permission to travel to compete in Italy.

“The rap, flute loop, the bucket hat, the break dancing, the sparkly waistcoat. We will never be as cool as Kalush Orchestra,” Eurovision tweeted Tuesday after the performance.

If the group — which mixes hip-hop with Ukrainian folk dance — wins the Eurovision final Saturday, Ukraine gets the right to host the 2023 contest. The annual competition was first held in 1956, and while its organizers in the European Broadcasting Union have billed it as a “nonpolitical” event, it has often reflected the political dynamics of its time.

In fact, the band replaced Ukraine’s original act, Alina Pash, earlier this year because of a probe into a visit Pash made in 2015 to Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow annexed in 2014. And after the Kremlin launched its war on Ukraine, Russia was banned from this year’s contest.

In 2016, the Ukrainian entry by Crimean Tatar singer Jamala scored Ukraine its second Eurovision win. When the contest was held the next year in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, Russia was barred from joining.

Armenia and Georgia were among the contenders to pull out in past years over tensions with other countries, while bearded Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst’s victory in 2014 sparked debate about LGBTQ rights.

Annabelle Chapman contributed to this report.