EventsEventsPodcasts
Loader
Find Us
ADVERTISEMENT

'All war is sh*t': alyona alyona & Jerry Heil on representing Ukraine at Eurovision

alyona alyona & Jerry Heil in rehearsal
alyona alyona & Jerry Heil in rehearsal Copyright alyona alyona & Jerry Heil
Copyright alyona alyona & Jerry Heil
By Jonny Walfisz
Published on
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

alyona alyona & Jerry Heil, the Ukrainian entry for this year's Eurovision speak to Euronews Culture about the political importance of the song contest.

ADVERTISEMENT

The first sneak peek of Ukraine’s Eurovision performance has been leaked and it’s clear the country means business. Two years on from Kalush Orchestra’s seismic victory amid the turmoil of Russia’s violent invasion, the ongoing war hasn’t damped the spirit of alyona alyona and Jerry Heil, this year’s entry to the competition.

In the small snippet, Heil sings the chorus of their song ‘Teresa & Maria’ as she ascends a mountain peak while flares fall beside her. The 28-year-old singer cuts an angelic figure amid a vision of missiles raining down on her beloved country.

According to Heil and co-performer alyona alyona, this year’s Eurovision Song Contest – which will hold its grand finale on 11 May in Malmö, Sweden – isn’t just an opportunity for them to raise their international profiles as musicians, but also part of the soft power frontline of a war fought by galvanising the West to Ukraine’s aid.

Jerry Heil in rehearsal for Eurovision
Jerry Heil in rehearsal for Eurovisionalyona alyona & Jerry Heil

“We knew what people would expect from us when we tried out for the national competition,” Heil tells Euronews Culture. “Because we expected the same from every other participant in previous years.” Heil and alyona alyona won Ukraine’s Vidbir 2024 competition in February, earning them the right to represent their country.

Heil had entered the ballot to represent Ukraine at Eurovision twice before, the first time losing out to Go_A in 2020 and then Tvorchi in 2023. Her turn finally came this year after teaming up with rapper and collaborator Aliona Olehivna Savranenko, better known as alyona alyona.

We're all divas

Alongside composers Anton Chilibi and Ivan Klymenko, they wrote the song ‘Teresa & Maria’, which places Mother Teresa and the Virgin Mary as pivotal figures to inspire hope in humanity for everyone. It’s a quintessential Ukrainian Eurovision entry for a country that has nailed the brief in recent memory. While other countries lean into saccharine sweet pop ballads, ‘Teresa & Maria’ combines haunting folk chanting, tight rap verses and anthemic vocals. All of this is sung proudly in Ukrainian.

“With Mother Teresa and Maria, we created a song about two symbols of kindness and love and unity. If you are united, you can win the war, you can change the world and leave something for your children and the children of your children,” alyona alyona says. She wants to continue the sense of unity that Ukraine managed to achieve when they won the 2022 competition, a couple of months after Russia first invaded.

alyona alyona
alyona alyonaalyona alyona & Jerry Heil/Sarah Louise Bennett

Referring to the English line in the chorus: “All the divas were born as the human beings”, Heil explains that even those who became holy figures like Mother Teresa are human and prone to mistakes, but it’s your “big actions that matter. That’s what defines you.”

It’s the sort of compassionate message that’s very on-brand for Eurovision. According to the contest’s rules, song lyrics cannot be ostensibly political. For example, his year’s entry for Israel, Eden Golan, was forced to rewrite her song ‘October Rain’, changing the title to ‘Hurricane’ to pass the apolitical requirements from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). So it’s no surprise that the pair opted for a message of hope and unity without making reference to Russia’s invasion too overtly.

Rebuilding schools in Ukraine

Nevertheless, the duo are dedicated to the cause of using the contest as a springboard for promoting the devastation Russia has wreaked on Ukrainian lives and culture. They’ve dedicated the song to the women of Ukraine, particularly the women who are teachers at the Velykokostromska School.

The remains of the Velykokostromska School
The remains of the Velykokostromska SchoolUNITED24

The Velykokostromska School in Dnipro was destroyed by Russian missiles in October 2022. As part of their Eurovision bid, Heil and alyona alyona have created a fundraiser through UNITED24 to rebuild the school for the 250 children who used to attend it. Heil explains that education is crucial to the long-term war effort because it will be the “children who rebuild the country after us. So we have to provide them with a childhood.”

EBU may see Eurovision as apolitical, but to Heil and alyona alyona, it is another means of putting the country and its culture at the hearts of the international community, an essential tool in their fight against Russia. “If you have Ukrainian music in your playlists, you’ll think of us on a daily basis, thinking of us as people equal to you who want to have a normal life and just can’t,” Heil says.

Schoolgirls stand outside the rubble of Velykokostromska School
Schoolgirls stand outside the rubble of Velykokostromska SchoolUNITED24

Making sure Ukraine is at the forefront of European minds is also why it’s important to the duo that Russia remain excluded from the competition. “Why should the destroyer of other cultures be given the chance to spread their culture,” alyona alyona says. Giving Russia the power of an international competition like Eurovision as a political tool to spread their country’s culture would undermine the efforts the West has taken to treat them as a pariah state, they explain.

Performing alongside Israel

Russia was excluded from Eurovision in 2022 shortly after the invasion. EBU has not made any suggestions that they will be allowed to return in the future. But it’s notable that in the past year, there has been a growing movement for Israel to be excluded from this year’s competition which has been ignored by EBU.

In just over six months since the 7 October attacks, the Israeli assault on Gaza has killed over 34,000 people. This figure includes over 20,000 women and children, six times the death toll in Ukraine over two years.

ADVERTISEMENT

When asked about Israel’s singer Eden Golan’s participation, the Ukrainian duo shy away from taking on too forceful an opinion. “All war is shit. Terrorism is shit,” alyona alyona says. “The main thing that we respect is human life.”

Pressed about performing alongside the Israeli entry, Heil emphasises: “We're just happy to be here to represent our culture and we know that we have to perform well for our country to be visible. They do what they do for their country.”

The duo at an earlier performance
The duo at an earlier performancealyona alyona & Jerry Heil

The duo’s comments reflect Ukraine’s 2016 Eurovision winner Jamala’s comments earlier this week that while some countries may refuse to participate in this year’s contest over Israel’s inclusion, “we cannot afford to give up such a contest in time of war.”

While Golan was forced to rewrite her song, EBU has not taken to ban the 20-year-old Russian-Israeli singer outright, despite calls for a boycott of the entire televised event. Jean Philip De Tender, the deputy director general of EBU has also said that: “If you were to exclude [Israeli broadcaster] Kan outside of these competition rules, that would have been a political decision, as such, which we cannot take.”

ADVERTISEMENT

For now, Jerry Heil and alyona alyona are just focused on doing the best they can for their country in this competition. At the time of writing, odds websites put Ukraine as fourth in their chances to win – decent odds by anyone’s standards. They have the whole of Ukraine behind them, with many of the previous entrants sending their love. “Kalush Orchestra blessed us, Verka Serduchka blessed us, Jamala blessed us, Go_A blessed us. We saw a lot of artists and they say: ‘You can do it. You have to do it’.”

Share this articleComments

You might also like