A bomb shelter in Kyiv was transformed into the set of a television extravaganza over the weekend as Ukrainian musicians vied for the chance to represent their country at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2023 — and potentially take home the top prize for the second straight year.
Amid waves of Russian missile and drone strikes, there was little indication that the competition was being filmed in an underground metro station that has served as a shelter since Russia’s invasion. But the professional lighting and intricate graphics behind the performers could not totally distract from the rumbling of trains that at times could be heard between musical numbers.
The electronic music duo Tvorchi beat out nine other acts on Saturday with a performance of their song “Heart of Steel,” which they have said was inspired by the courage of Ukrainian defenders in the Azovstal steel plant during the siege of the southern city of Mariupol. Vocalist Jeffery Kenny sang between two backup dancers wearing gas masks as images of nuclear warning signs displayed on screens behind them.
“Don’t care what you say, don’t care how you feel, get out of my way, ‘cause I got a heart of steel,” Mr. Kenny sang. The duo — which has said that the song is about dignity, freedom and the unbreakable spirit of Ukrainians — both wore silver and gold “steel” hearts embroidered on the chests of their costumes.
They will take the Eurovision stage to perform their winning song in May.
Eurovision, the world’s largest live music competition, is known for its elaborate costumes, over-the-top performances and potential to launch new talent to international fame. The annual European showcase promoting cultural unity was first held in 1956 and has ballooned into a huge TV event with participants from nearly 40 countries, including Australia and Israel. Close to 160 million people tuned in to the 2022 competition in May.
Ukraine won that contest, which followed Russia’s invasion in February, when folk-rap band Kalush Orchestra secured the popular vote with an energetic performance of “Stefania.” The song was originally written to honor the mother of the group’s frontman, but was recast during the war as a tribute to Ukraine and has since become an anti-war anthem.
While the country that wins Eurovision typically hosts the next edition of the competition, the contest’s organizers announced in June that it would not be possible to hold the event in Ukraine, citing security. The event will instead be held in Liverpool, England.
Tvorchi, in a statement on their Instagram page, thanked “people with hearts of steel.”
“We will do everything to adequately represent Ukraine and our indomitability,” the duo wrote.