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UKRAINE

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Members of the band
Members of the band "Kalush Orchestra" pose onstage with the winner's trophy and Ukraine's flags after winning on behalf of Ukraine the Eurovision Song contest 2022 on May 14, 2022 at the Pala Alpitour venue in Turin. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
 
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
 
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
 
 
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant
“Sentimentai”.

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.

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UKRAINE

Germany to recognise Stalin famine in Ukraine as ‘genocide’

Germany is to declare the 1930s starvation of millions in Ukraine under Joseph Stalin a "genocide", adopting language used by Kyiv, according to a draft text seen by AFP on Friday.

Germany to recognise Stalin famine in Ukraine as 'genocide'

The joint resolution by deputies from Germany’s centre-left-led coalition and the opposition conservatives is also intended as a “warning” to Russia as Ukraine faces a potential hunger crisis this winter due to Moscow’s invasion.

Lawmakers plan to vote on the resolution next Wednesday following Ukraine’s memorial day for the Holodomor, as the famine is known, which falls on the last Saturday in November each year.

The Holodomor belongs on “the list of inhuman crimes by totalitarian systems in which millions of human lives were wiped out” in the first half of the 20th century, the draft text reads, including those committed by Nazi Germany.

“People across Ukraine, not just in grain-producing regions, were impacted by hunger and repression,” an orchestrated policy that “meets the historical-political definition from today’s perspective for genocide”.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock lent their backing to the parliamentary declaration on Friday via their spokespeople.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called Berlin’s move a “milestone” on Twitter. Baerbock later credited Kuleba with prompting Berlin to pass the resolution.

READ ALSO: ‘We just didn’t realise’: What it was like growing up in post-Nazi Dachau

Pope lends backing

The 1932-33 Holodomor — Ukrainian for “death by starvation” — is regarded by Kyiv as a deliberate act of genocide by Stalin’s regime with the intention of wiping out the peasantry.

Stalin’s campaign of forced “collectivisation” seized grain and other foodstuffs and left millions to starve.

The German resolution says that up to 3.5 million people are believed to have died that winter alone but historians put the total death toll as high as 10 million.

The Holodomor has long been a source of hostility between Russia and Ukraine.

Moscow rejects Kyiv’s account, placing the events in the broader context of famines that devastated regions of Central Asia and Russia.

However Pope Francis this week also condemned the historical famine as a “genocide” as he expressed sympathy for the “suffering of the dear Ukrainian people” in the face of the current war.

“We pray for the victims of this genocide (in the 1930s) and for so many Ukrainians — children, women and the elderly, babies — who today suffer the martyrdom of aggression,” he said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile Romanian MPs approved a resolution the same day recognising “the Holodomor as a crime against the Ukrainian people and humanity”.

And the Irish senate on Thursday carried a motion to recognise the Holodomor “as a genocide on the Ukrainian people”.   

The German text noted that Soviet representatives had disputed the Holodomor before the United Nations General Assembly as late as the early 1980s.

“It would take decades before the Soviet leadership under party leader Mikhail Gorbachev as part of the glasnost policy would admit there had been a ‘famine’ in Ukraine,” it said.

“Archives were opened and reports were published.”

READ ALSO: Germany welcomes UN resolution against Holocaust denial

‘Message of warning’

The current conflict has fuelled fears that history may repeat itself.

Russia’s targeting of grain storage facilities and its blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea exports have sparked accusations that Moscow is again using food as a weapon of war.

Robin Wagener of Germany’s Green party, one of the resolution’s initiators, said Russian President Vladimir Putin operated “in the cruel and criminal tradition of Stalin”.

Holodomor memorial Kyiv

Foreign Minister Annalena Bearbock visits a memorial of the Holodomor in Kyiv on February 7th – just days before the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

“Once more, the basis for life in Ukraine is meant to be taken away through violence and terror, and the entire country brought to heel,” he told the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Wagener said calling the Holodomor a genocide was intended as a “message of warning” to Moscow.

The resolution declares that “few people in Germany and the European Union” are familiar with the facts of the Holodomor and its consequences.

It said that Germany had a “particular responsibility” given its wartime guilt to speak out about the “genocide”, a term that was only recognised in international law after World War II.

By Deborah Cole

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