For Ukraine’s Tvorchi, Eurovision Is About Much More Than Music
If there is one cliché to sum up the past few years in the life of Tvorchi, the duo representing Ukraine at the Eurovision Song Contest 2023, it would probably be: “Life comes at you fast.”
Five years ago, sound producer Andrew Hutsuliak and lead singer Jeffery Kenny met by chance on the street while they were both studying pharmacy at Ternopil National Medical University. Andrew invited Jeffery to practice English together, while Jeffery asked for Ukrainian lessons. About a year after they met, it was Andrew’s birthday and Jeffery came over with a guitar. He sang “Happy Birthday” to Andrew, who was blown away by his stunning vocals. Andrew decided to play Jeffery some music he had written and he started singing the lyrics on the fly, rhyming along as he went. That’s how Tvorchi — and the band’s first track, “Slow” — was born.
In 2020, life threw another curveball at the pair: They were selected to represent Ukraine at the Eurovision Song Contest — the world’s longest-running TV talent contest, which boasts a global audience of around 180 million people. But we all know what happened next: Covid-19 spread across the world and, like so many things, Eurovision was canceled for the first time in the contest’s 66-year history. None of the acts selected for 2020 were allowed to return for 2021.
Now, Tvorchi is back at Eurovision in similarly unusual circumstances. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the nation won Eurovision last year. With Russia banned from the contest, Ukraine’s overwhelming victory on the public vote was a remarkable show of solidarity. Ukraine is still not safe enough to host the contest this year, so Eurovision is being held in Liverpool, England – the home of the Beatles. The U.K. is hosting the contest on behalf of Ukraine, and the northern English city is covered in Ukrainian flags. Ukraine’s history and culture is set to feature heavily in Saturday’s grand final.
Last December, Tvorchi once again won the right to represent Ukraine in a televised contest. (This time, it was held 90 meters underground for safety reasons.) “Heart of Steel,” Ukraine’s entry this year, is exactly what it sounds like: an anthem about overcoming adversity.
After months of buildup, Tvorchi has finally arrived in Liverpool for their center-stage moment. Whether they are crowned victorious on Saturday feels like a secondary concern, but at Eurovision anything could happen. After all, Tvorchi is not only armed with a song, but with an important message from Ukraine to the world.
Congratulations on representing Ukraine at Eurovision 2023. Have you had a warm welcome in the U.K. and Liverpool?
Jeffery: Yeah! It’s been amazing, right from the airport. Everything has been so beautiful. So much support, so many Ukrainian flags everywhere. It’s been extremely nice. And we just can’t say thank you enough to the U.K. and everybody who is involved in Ukraine as well. I can’t put it into words.
Andrew: A huge thanks to the U.K. for hosting and all the support we’ve received!
You’ve only been making music together for a few years. How does it feel to be performing on such a huge global platform?
Jeffery: It feels amazing. It’s a very huge opportunity and a big platform to say something important. We’re glad to be a part of history here by representing Ukraine.
Andrew: We’re very honored to represent the whole country and the people who chose us. Right now, Ukraine is having hard times. This is not just about winning, but about doing our best to help our country and our people.
You were selected in 2020, which was canceled because of Covid-19. So much has changed for Ukraine since then. What does it feel like to be back in such different circumstances?
Andrew: In 2020, we were in difficult times. And right now, there is another situation and another difficult time. For us, we decided to apply because we had a song with the message we wanted to say to the world.
What would you say is the core message of the song? Why do you think it’s a good message for the world from Ukraine right now?
Jeffery: The core message is strength, courage, and bravery. It represents every Ukrainian person fighting for the freedom of Ukraine. It’s about how Ukrainians feel right now, and we just want to inspire people to be stronger and to be better versions of themselves.
Andrew: We don’t want to be pitied. We want to inspire people to look at us and be united. We are fighting for our freedom — for our land, for our families. Everyone has hard times in their lives, because that’s life and you don’t know what’s going to happen. So we want our example to be that no matter how hard it is, you just don’t need to give up. Just do your best and everything will be OK.
When you auditioned for the contest on Ukrainian TV, you had to perform in a shelter deep underground. That must have been quite strange?
Jeffery: Yes, it was a metro station that doubled as a bomb shelter. So we were performing in the middle of two tracks. It was basically on a platform where passengers wait for the train. So it’s a very small space, and it was very unusual. We never expected something like that to happen. I think it was one of a kind, so everyone did a great job pulling things together. It was very special.
Andrew: And thanks to all the brave soldiers who gave us the chance to make the national selection, because defending the country is a very important job.
Russia is banned from Eurovision this year. How important are cultural boycotts and international solidarity to Ukrainians?
Jeffery: If Russia was allowed to compete, I think it would be a slap in the face to not just Ukraine, but to every other country as well. And especially to Ukraine, because it just wouldn’t make any sense at all. You know, why should the aggressors be involved? When we talk about unity and togetherness and they tried to just destroy Ukraine for no reason? It just wouldn’t make sense. So I’m glad that it is the way it is.
The U.K. is a strong supporter of Ukraine. Does that make it extra special that they’re hosting for you this year?
Andrew: For the people in the United Kingdom, we would like to say a huge thanks for everything you’re doing for Ukraine. And for all the countries who support Ukraine in these hard times. We feel that big support in our hearts, and we feel like a big family who are now united against the evils trying to destroy us. Together we can create a better future.
Ukraine has won Eurovision so many times — three out of the last 20 years. Why are you so good at this contest?
Andrew: It’s a good question. There are so many different types of music, and it’s very hard to be in a competition with rock, pop, R&B, and dance music. I think Ukraine is good at Eurovision because the people have passion to create music and then people respond to that.
The visuals from your music video are stunning. Why did you choose the imagery of volcanoes and earthquakes?
Jeffery: Well, the song is about strength and courage, but it also tells a story of pain. It’s just like a visual representation of passion, pain, and strength. Of overcoming.
Eurovision is such a global phenomenon now: Do you hope to take your music around the world after this?
Jeffery: Yes! We hope that we can use this opportunity and this platform to do something great. We’d definitely like to perform in different countries in front of different people, just to give them a feel of what we’re about as a band as well and what your brain is about.
What do you want people to take away from your performance on Saturday?
Jeffery: We want people to take strength and courage from the song and be inspired to be better versions of themselves, to help others, and be kind. If you’re in a negative situation, you can keep your head up and move forward. Everything will be fine.