Kalush Orchestra say President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has been barred from making an address at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, would have only wanted to thank the British people for hosting the contest if he had been allowed to speak during the grand final.
The Ukrainian leader was rebuffed by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) – the group of national public broadcasters that produce Eurovision – over fears his message would “politicise” the contest.
Responding to the decision, Tymofii Muzychuk, who plays the distinctive pipe in the band’s 2022 winning anthem Stephania, told the PA news agency: “Actually we think that President Zelensky would have wanted to thank all the British people for doing this and, as we can see, Britain took this very responsibly, the UK.
“And so actually I think it would have been nice for him to talk.”
On Friday, the EBU said the Ukrainian president had “laudable intentions” but “regrettably” his request was against the rules.
“The Eurovision Song Contest is an international entertainment show and governed by strict rules and principles which have been established since its creation,” it said.
“As part of these, one of the cornerstones of the contest is the non-political nature of the event.
“This principle prohibits the possibility of making political or similar statements as part of the contest.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak criticised the decision, saying he was “disappointed” by the move, but suggested there are no plans to ask the EBU to change its mind.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and former prime minister Boris Johnson also spoke out in support of Mr Zelenskyy who had wanted to make an unannounced video appearance and had been expected to implore the global audience of millions to continue backing his country in its fight to repel Russian invaders.
Liverpool is hosting this year’s event on behalf of Ukraine, which won last year, because the war-torn nation is unable to do so.
Now tasked with opening this year’s competition, Kalush Orchestra will perform a reworking of their hit titled Voices Of A New Generation. They say they hope their performance will make viewers want to “keep supporting” their homeland.
It is a haunting and powerful opening that they’ll deliver, as Sky News got to witness during a special closed rehearsal.
The song – which mixes rap with elements of Ukrainian folk music – is an immediate reminder of lives lost in the war and the Ukrainian traditions under threat.
Speaking through a translator, the band’s frontman Oleh Psiuk told Sky News: “Due to Eurovision, you have an opportunity to see Ukraine from different aspects.
“We have all sorts of different musical genres in our country, Ukraine is rich in different varieties of music.”
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Eleven Ukrainian artists will perform in the ceremony itself, with Ukrainian motifs and the Ukrainian identity playing a central role throughout the night.
While Psiuk admits he was “upset” that it wasn’t safe for Ukraine to host, he said he’s grateful that Liverpool stepped in.
“We were a little bit upset, of course, but at the same time we want to say our deep, deep gratitude to the UK who decided [to take on] this responsibility to host the Eurovision on behalf of Ukraine… We really are so excited.”
Ukraine’s hopes this year rest on the shoulders of Tvorchi’s Heart Of Steel.
Psiuk hopes the electronic duo will make it two wins in a row or towards “the top at least” of the leaderboard.
“We think that they have a pretty high chance to win,” he says.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t had an opportunity to meet with them yet, but we do hope…We will be able to meet with them [to] advise them from our previous experience last year.”
The rapper’s message for viewers is simple: “Don’t forget about Ukraine, keep supporting [us].”
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Meanwhile, Eurovision fans are facing travel disruption due to a walk out by rail staff in a long-running dispute over pay.
Aslef members in more than a dozen train operators went on strike on Friday, affecting anyone with tickets for the second dress rehearsal, and members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union will strike on Saturday – the day of the grand final.
Passengers have been urged to check their route before setting off.
Sky News will be in Liverpool covering all the biggest news from the contest as it happens.