Why Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra want their Eurovision entry to be the 'anthem of victory, not war'

"How can you enjoy [this] when you're stressed all the time?" Kalush Orchestra's lead rapper tells ITV News Reporter Hannah Miller about the band's experience at Eurovision

For Oleh Psiuk and his band Kalush Orchestra, Eurovision is more than just a contest - it's an opportunity to tell the world not to forget about Ukraine.

"We’re here to showcase Ukrainian culture," the rapper told ITV News.

"Attempts are being made to destroy it but we’re here to prove that the Ukrainian culture exists, it’s alive, it’s interesting, and it has its own special signature."

Kalush Orchestra are preparing to take the stage for the Eurovision grand final on Saturday night after being voted through after a tense semi-final in Italy on Tuesday.

The band are firm favourites to win with their upbeat song Stefania, inspired by Oleh's mother, which has quickly become an anthem for the war-torn country.

But Oleh doesn't want the song, which fuses rap, hip hop and Ukrainian folk, to be a war anthem - he wants it to be uplifting.

“This song was written about my mother, it was made long before the war broke out. It doesn’t have a single word about the war," he explained.

"After the war broke out it got a lot of new additional meanings. Many people think about Ukraine as 'mother', and that’s why this song has become so close to the hearts of so many people.

"Many people may say this is the anthem of war - but we would rather it is the anthem of our victory.”

The band hope their song will keep the world's attention on the war in their country. Credit: AP

But the band's success in the competition is painfully bittersweet due to the constant worry of what is happening at home, where one of their bandmates stayed to fight on the frontline.

"It’s quite stressful being here because our people we love, our family, are staying there and we wake up every morning not sure if they’re still alive," said Oleh. "How can you enjoy [this]?"

He said his "mission" has always been to make Ukrainian music popular across the world, but now he carries an even greater responsibility.

"The whole country is watching us, the whole world is watching us and every step that we’re taking is important now," he said.

"But we made this decision on purpose, we want to be as useful to our country as possible and this is the way to be useful.”

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Kalush Orchestra were not the first choice to represent Ukraine, they stepped in last minute to replace Alina Pash, who withdrew after facing scrutiny over a reported 2015 visit to Russia-occupied Crimea.

People who enter Crimea via Russia are considered by Ukraine to have illegally crossed the border, although there is no suggestion that Pash did this.

Unlike other contestants, the band haven't had an opportunity to get together and rehearse for a "long time" due to the war. After being selected, they had just one day to practice before they left for Italy.

Oleh said they're now rehearsing "extra to catch up" so they can do their country proud before they head home.

Oleh said it's his 'mission' to bring Ukrainian music to the world. Credit: AP

Speaking of what he will return to, Oleh explains: "You hear air raid alerts all the time, when there are missiles flying above buildings - that is difficult. And this is something you cannot get used to, it’s kind of a lottery because you never know what the missile will hit this time."

As soon as the contest is over, the band will head back to Ukraine and Oleh said he will return to his organisation that is helping Ukrainians find accommodation, transport and medicine.

When asked what his message would be to those watching, Oleh said: “Help Ukraine in any way that you can... With regards to Eurovision, help us to protect our culture, our music and our language.”