Ukraine in spotlight as Eurovision Song Contest reaches grand final
The Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine marches in with the national flag at the beginning of the dress rehearsal for the final of the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest (ESC). The final of the 66th version of the international music contest will be held in Turin on 14 May with a total of 40 participants. Jens Büttner/dpa
The Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine marches in with the national flag at the beginning of the dress rehearsal for the final of the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest (ESC). The final of the 66th version of the international music contest will be held in Turin on 14 May with a total of 40 participants. Jens Büttner/dpa

Twenty-five countries are competing in the grand final of Saturday's Eurovision Song Contest, the annual over-the-top musical extravaganza, which this year takes place in Italy.

Ukraine is commanding the spotlight with its entry "Stefania," an energetic blend of traditional folk sounds and hip hop by the band Kalush Orchestra, whose six members swagger across the stage in traditional costumes.

Frontman Oleg Psyuk originally wrote the song about his mother. But, given the war taking place in Ukraine, it's now seen as being about Ukraine as a motherland that must be defended. "I'll always find my way home, even if all roads are destroyed," one lyric goes.

The song has been the clear favourite among bookmakers for weeks.

The band announced on social media that it would auction off the winner's trophy for charity if it wins.

The four-hour-long competition is supposed to be all about music, but this year's Eurovision has stronger political overtones than usual due to Russia's invasion of its neighbour.

Russia has been excluded from this year's contest, as has its close ally Belarus.

Besides Ukraine, entries from Sweden (Cornelia Jakobs with "Hold Me Closer"), Italy (Mahmood and Blanco with "Brividi") and Spain (Chanel with "SloMo") are also expected to feature high in the rankings.

Points are awarded by national juries and voting by viewers. The show's rules prevent voters from supporting their own country's entry. Countries advance to the grand final after two semi-finals.

The 66th edition of Eurovision is being staged in Turin, Italy, after the Italian band Måneskin won last year in Rotterdam with their rock song "Zitti e buoni." They will perform their new song "Supermodel" in a guest appearance at Saturday's show.

Ukraine has already won Eurovision twice: in 2004 with "Wild Dances" by Ruslana, and in 2016 with the song "1944" by Jamala, a mournful lament about the horrors of conflict.

The Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine performs "Stefania" at the first dress rehearsal for the final of the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest (ESC). The final of the 66th version of the international music contest will be held in Turin on 14 May with a total of 40 participants. Jens Büttner/dpa