KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A member of the Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra was greeted by cheering fans as he returned to Kyiv after winning the Eurovision Song Contest.
Ihor Didenchuk played the tunes of the winning song to the fans gathered at the train station, signed autographs, and took pictures with police and reservists.
The band and its song “Stefania” beat 24 other performers early Sunday in the grand final of the competition.
The public vote from home, via text message or the Eurovision app, proved decisive, lifting them above British TikTok star Sam Ryder, who led after the national juries in 40 countries cast their votes.
Band’s frontman Oleh Psiuk took advantage of the enormous global audience to make impassioned plea to free fighters still trapped beneath the sprawling Azovstal plant in Mariupol after the band’s performance.
The plea served as a somber reminder that the hugely popular and at times flamboyant Eurovision song contest was played out against the backdrop of a war on Europe’s eastern flank.
Didenchuk said the band worried that they wouldn’t be able to make this plea due to the contest’s rules forbidding political statements, but even possible disqualification didn’t not stop them from attracting attention to the situation in Azovstal.