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

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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German government ‘fears millions of heating systems could fail in winter’

If gas becomes scarce in winter, the German government is concerned it could start a chain reaction that would cause millions of household heaters to stop working, German media reported on Friday.

German government 'fears millions of heating systems could fail in winter'

Germany has been looking ahead to winter with concern amid fears of energy shortages and potential rationing, but according to a report in Bild newspaper, a reduction in the gas supply could have other unintended consequences.

If gas supplies become scarce, the government fears that the low pressure in the pipelines could cause millions of household heating systems to malfunction.

The concerns were raised in a confidential meeting between the head of the Federal Chancellor’s Office, Wolfgang Schmidt (SPD), and the heads of the state chancelleries on Wednesday, according to Bild. 

In the event that heating systems do fail, there could also be delays in getting them up and running again.

This is because professional expertise would be required for the heating systems to be reconnected to the gas supply, which could mean households are left in the cold until they can find an engineer. 

To avoid this happening, the government has demanded that utilities companies give at least 24 hours’ notice in the event of supply issues. This would prompt the Federal Network Agency to step in and take control of the gas distribution.

Frosty reception for gas levy

With Russia reducing its gas supplies into Germany in recent weeks, energy suppliers such as Uniper have been forced to make up the shortfall by purchasing gas elsewhere at short notice.

The ongoing supply issues have contributed to soaring prices on the energy market, with wholesale gas prices now five times higher than they were a year ago.

On Thursday, the cabinet voted through plans to introduce a levy on gas products that would allow struggling companies to pass their additional costs onto consumers.

However, the introduction of the levy – which could see families’ gas bills go up by around €1,000 per year – has sparked a debate about whether VAT should continued to be charged on energy products during the crisis.

READ ALSO: What is Germany’s new gas ‘tax’ and who will pay it?

Jens Spahn, the deputy leader of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, criticised the levy for having “technical flaws” and being “unfair” on consumers.

“It is almost cynical that the state is still earning money from the special levy via VAT,” Spahn said. “Citizens are paying up to €100 more than they need to.”

With VAT calculated as a percentage of gas bills, any additional charges, such as the levy, will have the effect of raising the amount of tax households have to pay.

Critics of the plans say this goes against the principle of offering relief from high energy costs and will place an unnecessary burden on households.

Jens Spahn (CDU/CSU) delivers a speech in the Bundestag

Jens Spahn (CDU/CSU) delivers a speech in the Bundestag. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Britta Pedersen

Currently, the FDP-led Finance Ministry is said to be looking at ways to ensure that the state doesn’t earn additional income through VAT on the back of the levy. 

“This is non-negotiable,” Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) said on Thursday. 

So far, the government hasn’t determined how high the gas levy will be, though Habeck has predicted that it will be somewhere between 1.5 and 5 cents per kilowatt hour of energy.

The government is hoping to set the amount in stone by August 15th with a view to introducing the levy on October 1st.

As The Local reported on Thursday, there may also be legal issues that need to be resolved before the new charge can come into force. 

Current contract law stipulates that only the state, rather than private enterprises, can add a new levy to fixed-price contracts. 

This could cause difficulties since the government had intended for gas suppliers to apply the levy directly in order to compensate for up to 90 percent of their additional costs. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s gas surcharge plans face legal hurdle