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The Ukrainian Reminders At Liverpool’s Song Contest Written by on May 6, 2023 | 1 Comment

From postcards to presenters and from pies to audio exhibitions, wherever you touch the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest there is going to be a constant reminder of Ukraine, last year’s winner but not this year’s host, at every corner. Ben Robertson summarises the Ukrainian influence at this year’s Song Contest. 

The Eurovision Song Contest 2023 is being held in Liverpool, England. This is despite Ukraine winning the contest in Turin last year and despite the Ukrainian broadcaster submitting three possible alternatives for how to host the show within Ukrainian borders.

However the decision was made to allow second place United Kingdom to host due to “safety and security reasons” within Ukraine. The invasion of Ukrainian territory by Russia that began in February 2021 continues to this day with a conflict that has seen many millions fleeing the Ukrainian nation and tens of thousands of deaths.

From the get-go the rhetoric has been that this is a hosting by the BBC “on behalf of Ukraine” and as such the Ukrainian broadcaster UA:PBC has representatives within the production team to make the event “a true reflection of Ukrainian culture.”

This article puts all of that reflection on paper. From the streets of Liverpool to the broadcast reaching over 100 million people, here we list the ways that the story of Ukraine will be a part of the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest.

Making The Show Happen

The collaboration with UA:PBC is not a 50/50 split. This is very much a BBC production with the lead production team that is almost exclusively British. That is extended into roles such as Music Director and Lighting Designer – these core production roles within the team do not throw up any Ukrainian names.

The Ukrainian influence in the production is instead a “partnership” focused on “all creative elements of the three live shows”. Oksana Skybinska, Ukrainian Head of Delegation, as well as Tetiana Semenova and German Nevov are the contacts from the Ukrainian broadcaster active in helping to steer the creative direction at the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest. In addition to that you will see Ukraine take place within the postcards of this year’s competing entrants, with Ukrainian film production company 23/32 Films ensuring 37 Ukrainian locations will be included alongside 37 from the United Kingdom and footage from each participating nation as well.

There will be a continuous stream of Ukrainians visible within the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest. One of the four hosts of the show is singer Julia Sanina from the bard The Hardkiss, who has also featured X Factor Ukraine and their Eurovision selection this year Vidbir as a guest juror as a juror on Ukrainian X Factor and Vidbir, the nation’s Eurovision selection. Julia will open the first Semi Final of Eurovision with a performance of the song ‘Mayak’.

Also present in that same show is 2010 representative Alyosha. She will perform alongside Liverpool star Rebecca Ferguson the track ‘Ordinary World’, telling a story of hope and courage to the people of Ukraine. Setting the scene in the 2nd Semi Final is Mariya Yaremchuk, 2014 Ukrainian Eurovision representative. She will be presenting a medley of Ukrainian songs in a performance called ‘Music United Generations’ together with OTOY and Zlata Dzuinka, the Ukrainian Junior Eurovision representative in Yerevan last December.

At the Grand Final we will witness last year’s winners Kalush Orchestra open the show, with a performance called ‘Voices of a New Generation’ that will include their winning song ‘Stefania’. This feeds immediately into the Flag Parade, where you will find familiar Ukrainian Eurovision names like Go_A, Jamala, Tina Karol and Verka Serduchka performing new versions of their songs alongside British classics.

Also on the television broadcast will be 2017 Eurovision host and longtime Ukrainian commentator Timur Miroshnychenko. He will be giving live insights from his commentary position in Liverpool as well appearing in video inserts during the live show as the “Eurovision Correspondent”. Watch out for Timur throughout this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. He is one of the Press Conference hosts in the arena and on Sunday May 7th he will co-host the Turquoise Carpet event outside St. George’s Hall.

Ukraine In The Song Contest

Of course all of this Ukrainian representation so far ignores the competitive entry representing Ukraine this year in Liverpool. The band TVORCHI won the ticket to represent Ukraine back in December in a national final held within the depths of the Kyiv Metro system. The duo, a combination of producer Andrii Hutsuliak and vocalist Jeffrey Kenny, met five years ago as students at the Ternopil National Medical University.

Their song ‘Heart of Steel’ took inspiration from the siege of Mariupol in 2022 where the Azovstal Steel Plant stood firm for many days as the last part of the city not yet captured by the advancing Russian army. The determination of the Ukrainian people, Andrii concludes, is “protecting all of Europe” from those who are “playing with nuclear threats”.

The Ukrainian song is not the only one that is taking inspiration from the Ukrainian people and their current conflict with Russia. Czechia’s entry ‘My Sister’s Crown’ was written by the band Vesna as a “tribute to our close sister, Ukraine”. Ukraine in this sense is the Slavic sister and the crown refers to Ukraine’s sovereignty. Not only does the song’s chorus use the Ukrainian language from lyricist Kateryna Vatchenko but various lines of lyrics are explicit about the song’s message.

“My sister won’t stand in the corner,

Nor will she listen to you

You can take your hands back!

No one wants more boys dead.

My beautiful sister,

You are so strong,

Brave and the only one.

The crown is yours.”

This conflict, or, more particularly the actions of the aggressor Russia, was the theme for Croatian band Let 3 to create their Eurovision entry ‘Mama ŠČ’. The band members have commented in interviews about how the song has an anti-war theme and is directed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and how the song should be a message “to those who think the planet is their toy.”

Further to that Croatian professor Hrvoje Cvijanović came to the conclusion that the song also describes a more complex geopolitical situation than a pure anti-war narrative. This includes the relationship between Russia and its neighbour, Belarus, that has assisted its closest partner not just with logistics during the conflict. Cvijanović claims that tractors referenced in the song refer to a notable gift from Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko to Vladimir Putin, one of the Belarussian state’s biggest export products.

There is little denying that the invasion of Ukraine has inspired both the Croatian and Czech songs, and both are lyrically obvious and explicit in that inspiration. That is not the same for the Swiss entry ‘Watergun’, which presents a more timeless anti-war message that could universally be applied to any armed conflict through history. While the songwriter Pele Loriano has confessed the song’s writing process started before the invasion of Ukraine began, artist Remo Forrer is well aware of the relationship between this message and the importance of its timing in 2023.

We are currently faced with global crises and war. And we must live with the consequences of decisions we didn’t make. But I still hope we can change things.

Ukraine within the City

The Eurovision Song Contest’s hosting by the city of Liverpool will be flavoured by all kinds of Ukrainian touches throughout the month of May. Take for example the Eurovision Village at Pier Head where one can visit the Discover Ukraine area dedicated to celebrating Ukrainian creatives. The musical acts performing at the open-air venue include many from Ukraine, with special performances by Ukrainian musicians on Friday May 5th (including 2022 winners Kalush Orchestra) and Monday May 8th (including 2021 Eurovision representatives Go_A). Thursday May 11th, before the Second Semi Final of the Eurovision Song Contest, sees 2016 Eurovision winner Jamala perform her new album QIRIM live on the Eurovision Village stage together with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.

It should also be noted that the Eurovision Village also contains a section inside of it called Discover Ukraine. Located just on the left hand side of the exit (so don’t forget to vist) here is a section laid out in traditional Ukrainian market style with Ukrainian fashion and food for purchase (borshch, varenyky and cheburek on the menu, as well as eight other options) in addition to an exhibition about Ukrainian music and its power, particularly at this time. A detour well worth taking.

Numerous events taking place within the EuroFestival surrounding Eurovision also have a Ukrainian touch. In total of the 24 selected commissions 19 of them are collaborations between UK and Ukrainian artists.

EuroFestival will present 24 brand new commissions – 19 of which are collaborations between UK and Ukrainian artists – that will transform the city as fans from across the world descend on Liverpool. One such project is the Soloveiko Songbirds, with 12 light-up nightingales located around Liverpool with unique designs and audio soundscapes to represent different regions of Ukraine.

The Nelson Monument, located beside Liverpool Town Hall, is set to be surrounded by thousands of sandbags (a reference to Ukraine’s current efforts to protect themselves from bombardment) whilst also being home to the short documentary Protect The Beats about the efforts to keep music going throughout last year. Home is a photograph series dotted around the city aiming to show the creativity of modern Ukrainian culture. Perhaps you can combine this with audio guide With Fire and Rage, telling the stories of Ukrainian resistance not just to the conflict, but also to protect their culture.

Unity Theatre, located on Hope Street, will be holding events for the entire two week period in May, transforming it into a Ukrainian hub of activity with theatre, dining, photography, poetry and music all coming together for their 14 day long programme. Liverpool Cathedral will host the video installation Izyum to Liverpool, featuring different clips showing the long journey that many Ukrainians have taken since February 2022 to escape their nation. Later in the week BBC’s Storyville will be in Liverpool for two days of international documentaries focusing on Ukraine’s culture and the current conflict.

Assuming you are into music then look out for the Xpresia Festival, where from the 7th to the 9th of May Ukrainian and British artists will share the stage with the aim to celebrate “culture, unity and freedom of expression” Free tickets are available for the events, held within the Ten Streets area of Liverpool with tons of independent music venues.

However even beyond the enormous fringe programme of activities there is more Ukrainian influence in the city at this time. Fusion food is one of the many ways you may experience it, with a Chicken Kyiv “Eurovision Pie” will be on the menu at Pullman Jack’s Kitchen, with Homebaked Bakery at St. George’s Hall home to the Peace Pie, filled with borscht and with £1 from each sale going to both humanitarian efforts in Ukraine and food bank support locally in Merseyside. Bars and restaurants around the Albert Dock in Liverpool will also be selling Syrnyk, a cheesecake-like dessert, as well as a Kompot Spritz, combining vodka, prosecco and soda water with berries, rhubarb and sour cherries. Why not combine great food with flower crown making, which is being organised at various locations including The Hilton.

Yes, Ukraine Is Front And Centre

When it was announced that Ukraine was not to host Eurovision this year, I feared that that meant that Ukraine’s influence in the Song Contest, both on and off screen would be lost and forgotten wherever the show went instead. From day one there has been commitment to the production to showcase Ukraine throughout the Eurovision package that is displayed to local residents and the rest of the world alike.

While this is Liverpool’s show and the city is looking for a legacy beyond May in a way no Ukrainian city will directly benefit from, they are doing so fully with Ukraine in mind. There may be those out there looking to nitpick that each layer of the production is not exactly 50/50 British and Ukrainian, but those doing so would be neglecting how much of the effort there is in all layers of production to show that Ukrainian touch. All of these efforts are done with the best of intentions, and no one can deny that both the BBC and the City of Liverpool have not just had rhetoric behind this hosting “on behalf of Ukraine”, they have worked to integrate Ukraine in ways that will be a shining example of events planning for the history books.

It will be unmistakable for the viewer of Eurovision this year that the show is being held in the United Kingdom, but that Ukrainian influence will be all over the production. Similarly visitors to Liverpool will have constant reminders about the reasons behind why the Contest is in the north west of England this year, and throughout the poignant reminders of conflict one can celebrate Ukrainian culture while dodging the Irish Sea showers.

Hopefully there will never be a Eurovision Song Contest like this one ever again, but the effort and collaboration being shown will we are sure be used as a prime example of such practice for generations to come.

About The Author: Ben Robertson

Ben Robertson has attended 23 National Finals in the world of Eurovision. With that experience behind him he writes for ESC Insight with his analysis and opinions about anything and everything Eurovision Song Contest that is worth telling.

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One response to “The Ukrainian Reminders At Liverpool’s Song Contest”

  1. Shai says:

    Russian invasion started at February 2022 and not in 2021.

    I think the decision not to let Ukraine host, was the right one.
    Hosting in any of the suggested Ukrainian cities would have been a nightmare

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