Rarely in the history of a European song festival has a group been so firmly entrenched in the preferences of the public as the Ukrainian group from Stephania. In the face of war, his involvement goes far beyond music.
Bookmakers prove it: shortly before the final, the members of the Kalush Orchestra were far ahead of other Eurovision Song Contest 2022 (ESC) participants in the public’s preferences. Quotas usually fluctuate in the last week of the competition, but since March, Ukrainians have taken unconditional first place.
Before the start of the war in Ukraine, the situation was very different: among the 40 candidates, the group occupied only an average place in the preferences of the public. Is this musical triumph a message of solidarity destroyed by a brutal invasion, or is the band led by Oleg Psyuk and his song “Stefania” really good enough to deserve the contested title in Turin, Italy?
The charismatic vocalist hails from the city of Kalush in western Ukraine. His idol was Eminem and all he wanted to do was make music like an American rapper. Psyuk still studied forestry in Kyiv, but in 2019, together with multi-instrumentalist Igor Didenchuk, DJ MC KilimMen and dancer Daniil Chernov, he founded the Kalush group.
Thanks to cooperation with other Ukrainian artists, the group’s popularity in the country grew rapidly. After the song Dodomu, together with the musician Skofka, which gained almost 24 million clicks on YouTube, they were signed by the transnational rap label Def Jam.
Today, one of Ukraine’s most famous young musicians, Psyuk wears his trademark hot pink hat and folk costume. In 2021, he launched the new Kalush Orchestra project, which included Timofey Muzychuk and Vitaliy Duzhik, who brought even more folklore to the band’s sound with their multi-instruments.
It was in this line-up that the group started at Eurovision. In qualifying in Ukraine, she took only second place, but the original winner withdrew from the track. Due to the war that began against the country on February 24, they barely had time to rehearse their song. They dated online whenever possible, but other than that they had much more pressing matters to attend to.
Now they are seen not only as representatives of their country, but also as ambassadors. Before coming to Italian Turin, stage of the competition, they performed in several other European cities, always causing a wave of sympathy.
The song “Stefania” was composed before the war. Initially, Psyuk dedicated it to his mother, but in the face of military aggression, some verses inevitably took on a completely different meaning, for example: “I will always return home, even if the streets are destroyed.” Also, for many Ukrainians, the motherland is synonymous with mother.
The song begins with a folk-style singing that transitions into a pulsating Ukrainian-language hip-hop that is performed to the music of traditional Ukrainian musical instruments. This style was very successful and won the hearts of the public.
“Stefania” stands out from the usual pop dance numbers, increasingly produced exclusively with an eye on the festival. So even without the current dramatic circumstances, the Kalush Orchestra even before winning the prestigious international song festival had high chances for a good place.