First semi-final in Turin causes surprises

DThe good news first: Kalush Orchestra is in the final. Everything else would have been absurd, because even if you’re not a fan of hip-hop and breakdance mixed with beautiful folk music sounds, the Ukrainian band’s three minutes were the most emotionally charged and therefore also the most beautiful on Tuesday evening in the first semi-final in Turin.

The man, who almost always wears a pink knitted pot over his head, had written the song “Stefania” in his home country long before the war. For his mother, as Oleh Psiuk never tires of telling. She also still lives in Kalush in western Ukraine. The song dedicated to her has long since become an anthem in a country where mothers have to mourn their sons, their children and grandchildren, and also their husbands who are going to war that was forced upon them.

The ESC and the war

That six band members of Kalush Orchestra are in Turin is like a miracle. Actually, they didn’t win the Ukrainian preliminary round at all, they moved up because first-placed Alina Pash traveled via Moscow to the Russian-occupied Crimea in 2015, which is illegal, and therefore refrained from participating. Then the war broke out, some band members even went to the front. One is still fighting in Ukraine.

Since the others are all between 21 and 35 years old, they were only allowed to travel to Turin with a special permit from the country and to the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) – first overland to Poland and then by plane to Italy. To officially represent their country there, and they do it with all their hearts. Also with a spirited “Thank you for supporting Ukraine” at the end of their performance.

Russia, on the other hand, was banned from the ESC a day after the attack on Ukraine on February 25 because it discredits the competition and the values ​​it stands for. Moscow’s closest ally, Belarus, was not even planned for this year, because the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) had already excluded the country’s state broadcaster, BTRC, from the union for three years as a member in June 2021, because the broadcaster had been at the latest since the falsified presidential election of 2020, which kept Alexandr Lukashenko in power, no longer stood up for press freedom and had even suppressed the work of its own journalists. There had never been such an EBU exclusion against any member of the ESC before.

Ten finalists have been determined

As is so often the case, things got nerve-racking in the first semi-final on Tuesday evening when the ten finalists were announced. The Ukrainians were called eighth, which was due to chance. Because the rankings of the top ten will only be published early on Sunday morning, so that the ranking cannot influence the votes in the final.

The first of the 17 semi-finalists to celebrate shortly after 11 p.m. was the somewhat clumsy Marius Bear, who threw himself about in ecstasy, but only hit the small Swiss flag on the table in front of him. The man from Appenzell has a great grating voice reminiscent of Joe Cocker, but the 29-year-old Swiss otherwise sells rather unfavorably on stage. Or he is just very authentic. However, very few expected him to be in the final. But it allowed him and his song “Boys Do Cry” to celebrate a Salvador Sobral moment.