Fresh off its Eurovision win, Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra posted a music video early Sunday for “Stefania,” the song that secured its first-place finish at the popular music contest.
The video portrays Ukrainian soldiers as heroes and features heart-tugging scenes of destruction that were filmed in war-torn areas near Kyiv. It is the latest example of Ukraine’s use of cultural diplomacy amid its conflict with Russia.
The video opens to members of Kalush Orchestra walking through the ruins of bombed-out buildings, as Ukrainian service members carry children to safety through fire and other hazards. The children are reunited with their families in refugee centers and train stations, as the service members — all women — stare into the camera, some of them in tears.
The video ends with a shot of a young girl holding what appears to be a molotov cocktail, followed by a message from the band. “This video was filmed in Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka, Hostomel, cities near Kyiv that suffered the horrors of Russian occupation,” it reads. The video is dedicated to “the brave Ukrainian people,” the “mothers protecting children” and to “those who gave their lives to our freedom,” it says.
“Stefania,” the song that Kalush Orchestra frontman Oleh Psiuk wrote for his mother, plays in the background. Despite its personal origins, the song for many Ukrainians has taken on a new, more universal meaning after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Psiuk has said.
Another Ukrainian band, Antytila, recently collaborated with Ed Sheeran on a remix of Sheeran’s single “2step.” The accompanying music video also features scenes of destroyed buildings in Ukraine. Antytila’s lead singer, who volunteered to fight Russia alongside others in the band, sings in military uniform about wanting to be reunited with loved ones after the war.
Kalush Orchestra won Eurovision with “Stefania” on Saturday, and the music video for the song illustrates how Ukraine has at times placed music, film and other forms of art at the service of political aims. The members of Kalush Orchestra received special permission to travel to Italy for Eurovision, even though Ukraine has banned most men between 18 and 60 from leaving the country in case they are called to fight.
Ukraine’s parliament posted the video on its official Telegram page Sunday with a snippet of the song’s lyrics and the words. “The world needs to see it!” the message said. “It is impossible to hold back tears 💔”
The Eurovision Song Contest is often political, as dozens of countries compete for points from national juries and audiences voting on their phones. In 2016, after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, Ukrainian singer Jamala won Eurovision with a song about the Soviet deportation of Crimean Tatars during World War II.
Russia was banned from competing in this year’s Eurovision contest over its invasion of Ukraine, and Ukrainian officials sought to portray their country’s win as a victory for the broader Ukrainian war effort.
“Our courage is impressing the world, our music is conquering Europe!” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on Instagram. Meanwhile, frontman Psiuk pleaded from the stage for help for Mariupol and the city’s Azovstal steel plant, where Ukrainian fighters are stranded amid Russian strikes.
Calling for next year’s Eurovision Song Contest — which Ukraine, as this year’s winner, traditionally gets to host — to be held in Mariupol, Zelensky said, “I am sure that our victorious chord in the battle against the enemy is not far away.”