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Ukraine wins Eurovision Song Contest

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Ukraine has won the Eurovision Song Contest, perhaps the biggest musical competition on the other side of the Atlantic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STEFANIA")

KALUSH ORCHESTRA: (Singing in non-English language).

RASCOE: The song is about mothers and the motherland that Ukrainians are defending. Russia was barred from competing in the song contest this year because of its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. For Ukrainians, the victory symbolizes Europe's solidarity with their country, which remains under attack. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Like many in Ukraine, Karen Ahadzhanian watched Eurovision at home because of a wartime curfew. He spends long hours distributing food and supplies to Ukrainians displaced by the Russian invasion.

KAREN AHADZHANIAN: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: "And," he says, "I also have lots of friends on the front line. Some have died."

AHADZHANIAN: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: And on Saturday night, he imagined them singing to "Stefania" by Kalush Orchestra. When the band performed at the Eurovision final, he and his roommate sang, too.

AHADZHANIAN: (Singing in non-English language).

KAKISSIS: He says it was a way to feel close to other Ukrainians, especially those defending the country from Russian attacks. Kalush Orchestra also sensed the moment. When they finished their performances, frontman Oleh Psiuk made this plea.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OLEH PSIUK: I ask all of you, please help Ukraine, Mariupol. Help Azovstal right now.

KAKISSIS: He begged millions of viewers to help rescue wounded Ukrainian soldiers trapped in a bombed-out steel plant in the occupied port city of Mariupol. The weight of those words seemed to hang in the air as the night went on. Juries from 40 countries supported songs from Spain, Serbia and the United Kingdom. But the public vote went, overwhelmingly, for Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: The winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 2022 is Ukraine.

KAKISSIS: Karen Ahadzhanian did not hold back.

AHADZHANIAN: (Screaming).

KAKISSIS: The whole country was thrilled, including 29-year-old English teacher Nasya Nikitina. But, she says, winning Eurovision does not change the fact that Ukraine is a war zone.

NASYA NIKITINA: Because, for example, I was watching Eurovision. And I got the siren alert and something like that. It cannot, unfortunately, hide all the problems.

KAKISSIS: The winner of Eurovision is supposed to host the song contest in their home country the following year. There's concern that Ukraine might not be ready to do that in 2023. But Ukrainians say that this weekend is for celebrating at least a symbolic victory and the band that declared to the world...

PSIUK: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: "Long live Ukraine."

Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Dnipro, Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STEFANIA")

KALUSH ORCHESTRA: (Singing in Non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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