Ukraine have racked up a quite sensational record at Eurovision since they joined the party in 2003, good enough to now sit atop Nul Points all-time country average rankings. It’s also been quite a story, with more than a little politics along the way. So in the run-up to the sixty-second Grand Prix, time for a look at their many highlights.
The 2003 contest was the last with a straight final, no semis, where countries who wanted to enter were excluded if they had done badly the previous year. At this point several countries were eager to make their Eurovision debut, which was the reason that a semi-final was introduced a year later in 2004. For 2003 however while Albania, Belarus and Serbia & Montenegro were forced to wait another year, Ukraine (for reasons never fully made clear) were admitted to the Riga contest, making it the first with twenty-six entrants. It’s debut was inauspicious, as “Hasta La Vista” by Alexander finished in fourteenth place, admittedly twelve above the UK’s Jemini who he had the fortune (good or bad) to follow on stage. Despite the average result, Ukraine’s penchant for presentation was already apparent.
Forward one year to the historic first contest of the semi-era in Istanbul. NTU the Ukrainian broadcaster chose a song written by Ruslana Lyzhychko and her hubby Oleksandr Ksenofontov. The entry was called “Wild Dances” and was performed with much gusto with our Ruslana togged out like Xena The Warrior Princess. The lyrics to be fair were as nonsensical as “Boom Bang A Bang” but the overall package was devastatingly effective. In the first contest with a semi, the top three in the semi were also the top three in the final, but on the big night with all countries voting Ruslana turned a seven-point deficit to Serbia & Montenegro into a seventeen-point triumphal margin.
After a nineteenth place from a rock entry on home soil in 2005 was followed by a sold seventh place a year later Ukraine were ready once more to challenge for the Grand Prix. Yet not with the expected turbo-folk ethnic style of Ruslana or such (as was so de rigeur at the time). No, with a bonkers glittery drag queen that almost won the whole thing. Verka Serduchka was the creation of singer/comedian Andriy Danylko, and the character was created over a decade and a half before it hit Eurovision. Several members of the Ukrainian parliament protested at such an act representing their country. Yet Verka and her song “Dancing Lasha Tumbai” coasted to second place in the Helsinki contest. This was a contest where camp offerings from the UK (Scooch) and Denmark (DQ Drama Queen) bombed, yet Verka not only clinched runners-up spot, but outsold the winner after the contest. In the UK singles chart it hit #28, becoming the first non-winning entry from outside the UK to chart in thirty-three years. A relatively close runner-up to the Serbian winner “Molitva”, we wonder how different the last decade of Eurovision would have been if it had won.
One year on from Verka a more traditional offering from Ukraine but equally successful. In a contest where the red-hot favourites Russia duly won their first Grand Prix, Ani Lorak and her “Shady Lady” wasn’t too far behind, despite accruing just one maximum twelve points on the night (from Portugal)
After 2008 Ukraine’s fortunes diminished somewhat but they still managed top four finishes in 2011 and 2013, and visual treats included a “sand-artist” and a bloke rotating in a hamster wheel. Due to the political upheaval in 2015 they missed the contest but returned in 2016 with an intensely political entry called “1944” performed by Susana Jamaladinova aka Jamala. It’s subject matter was Stalin’s deportation of Crimean Tatars during World War Two. The song won the overall Grand Prix despite finishing second in the jury vote to Australia and second in the telvote to Russia.