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In Washington, applause for Ukraine’s Eurovision win at Italian Embassy party

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When the hosts of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy, announced the results of the popular vote for Ukraine, a crowd that had gathered at the Italian Embassy in Washington on Saturday for the party of the European Union watch burst into cheers. Then a technical glitch interrupted the streaming. The party guests gasped.

Just seconds after learning that Ukrainian folk rap group Kalush Orchestra would earn 439 points and knock every other country out of the rankings, the live stream had cut to a halt, leaving frontman Oleh Psiuk’s elated – and now pixelated – face frozen. on the screen.

It was an oddly specific time for a technical issue. In the age of cyber warfare, some might say too specific.

While Ukraine slipped from fourth to first after the public vote, final results from Sweden, Spain and the UK – who led the jury vote – had yet to be released. advertisement. Ukraine has yet to score a victory.

Soon there were impatient boos.

“Okay, that’s it. Everyone go home,” joked a woman in a blue T-shirt with the golden EU logo, as if she had hijacked the show to declare Ukraine herself victorious.

“It’s always the Italians!” another person exclaimed, perhaps forgetting that it is not Italy, but Russia that excels in cyberattacks of this variety.

Attendees reached for their phones, searching for the fastest update they could find online, when the live stream came alive. It was clear that whether they were waving Serbian flags or wearing Swedish clothes, most guests supported at least two countries. And when Ukraine won, it seemed like everyone else did too.

Ukrainian band win Eurovision Song Contest as war rages at home

The victory comes at a time when Ukraine is in a deadly struggle for its independent identity, giving the cultural flourishes of Kalush Orchestra’s contemporary traditional-folk-meets-rap song “Stefania” an added sense of gravity. This is seen as a continent-wide cry of support for Ukraine and a resounding condemnation of the Russian invasion.

Ukraine first performed at Eurovision in 2003 and won in 2004 and 2016. Ahead of this year’s competition, Kalush Orchestra had to practice virtually before finally reuniting safely in Lviv . On Saturday, Ukrainian Eurovision commentator Timur Miroshnychenko broadcast from an air raid shelter.

This year marks perhaps the only time war on European soil has significantly shaped the show. A day after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, she was banned from competing. Heading into the Grand Final on Saturday night, the Kalush Orchestra of Ukraine emerged as the favorites.

And that was clear at the Italian embassy on Saturday, where a few hundred people – largely EU delegation staff, European embassy staff and their friends – gathered around two large screens in a large high-ceilinged room. Two attendees near the entrance carried huge boas, which threw piles of blue and yellow feathers onto the ground. Several guests donned sunflower pins. And one woman paired blue socks with bright yellow sneakers. The EU’s blue and gold signature appeared interchangeable with Ukraine’s.

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During Nadir Rustamli’s performance, Rufiat Aghayev, a native of Azerbaijan and former TV host who has attended several Eurovision Song Contests, posed in front of the screen with a flag of his homeland in one hand and a Ukrainian flag in the other. . “We are good friends,” he said of the two countries, “We hope they win. They need it more now. The whole world is supporting them.”

Much of the Eurovision vote reflects diplomatic relations – and grievances – between neighboring countries. In 2021, shortly after Britain left the EU, the country received no votes. Liv Heinrich, a student from Germany, was interested to see who the former Soviet states would support this year. Historically, some had used Eurovision as an opportunity to curry favor. “Russia’s absence will change the dynamics of the votes,” she said.

While Eurovision officially aims to stay out of politics, it hasn’t always been a success. In 2019, host organization the European Broadcasting Union fined Iceland after rock band Hatari waved a Palestinian flag during the vote count to protest the Israeli occupation. Last year, Belarus was kicked out after the EBU asked band Galasy ZMesta to rewrite their song, which originally mocked protests against their authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Ukraine’s entry into the “Stefania” contest is, at first glance, far from political. Written by Psiuk about his mother, it has a sweet chorus that translates, “Stefania, mum, mum, Stefania/The field is in bloom, but her hair is turning gray/Sing me a lullaby, mum/I still want to hear your dearest words.”

Since the invasion, the song has become something of an anthem in the war-torn country, with people interpreting “mother” to mean Ukraine.

“Stefania” was one of the few songs that drew a collective applause at the embassy, ​​in a room with poor acoustics, where it was difficult to hear anything. Members of the Ukrainian Embassy also made a low-key appearance at the event and could be seen biting their nails and tearing their eyes as the results were announced that their country had won.

Vlad Novac, an employee of the hotel industry, came to encourage his country of origin, Moldova, and of course Ukraine. Eurovision “is always a bit more than music,” he said. “At the end of the day, it shows how the continent feels.”