Oleh Psiuk, the lead singer of Kalush Orchestra, made an impassioned on-stage plea to free fighters still trapped at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and request further aid from the West as he and his five bandmates performed at the 66th Eurovision edition, held in Turin in Italy. The morning after, shocking images showing the artist’s words scrawled on air bombs emerged.
The messages were written on the OFAB 250-270 bombs, high-explosive fragmentation devices designed to destroy military-industrial facilities, armoured vehicles and large groups of fighters.
Mr Psiuk shouted from the stage: “I ask all of you, please help Ukraine, Mariupol. Help Azovstal, right now.”
The mocking note which appeared on Sunday read: “Just as you asked for, Kalusha! For Azovstal.
“#Eurovision2022. I heard the call to f*** up Azov. Help Mariupol. Help Mariupol right now.”
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The pictures were posted on Telegram by pro-Kremlin channel FighterBomber just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pledged to hold Eurovision in Mariupol next year.
Welcoming the victory, the country’s third since its 2003 Eurovision debut, he said “we will do our best” to one day host the contest in a “free, peaceful, rebuilt” Mariupol.
He added: “I am sure our victorious chord in the battle with the enemy is not far off.”
Mariupol has been under near-constant bombardment since the start of the invasion on February 24.
The Azovstal steel plant, the besieged city’s last stronghold, has as many as 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers holding out.
According to Petr Andryushchenko, adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, sources among those remaining at the plant’s ruins believe a vote on the port city’s future was in the making.
He said Moscow is preparing to hold a referendum on whether the city will join Russia, following the announcement of a similar poll in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia.
He told the Observer on Saturday: “We have some information that the Russian authorities are preparing a referendum and could even call it tomorrow, but we don’t know yet if this is the case.
“But we see lots of integration of Mariupol into the Russian system, the education system, the banking system.”
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Mr Andryushchenko called those responsible for the cruel words written on the Russian bombs “inhuman”.
The official, who is operating in exile, said on his Telegram channel: “This is the reaction of the Russian military to our victory at Eurovision 2022… In Russia, a century of repentance will follow the losses.
“They are just inhuman… they have lost anything remotely similar to humanism and humanity.”
Kalush Orchestra’s song, called “Stefania”, mixes rap with elements of Ukrainian folk music.
Its lyrics include lines such as “I’ll always find my way home, even if all roads are destroyed”.
Originally written in honour of the group’s mothers, they later rededicated it to all matriarchs in Ukraine.
The six band members required special permits to leave Ukraine during the war.
In the face of a Eurovision edition with a stronger-than-usual political component, the European Broadcasting Union, which organises the contest, spoke out in favour of Ukraine and defended its use of the stage to make a statement.
It said: “We understand the deep feelings around Ukraine at this moment and believe the comments of the Kalush Orchestra and other artists expressing support for the Ukrainian people to be humanitarian rather than political in nature.”