Liverpool hosts Eurovision on behalf of Ukraine under the banner 'united by music'

Liverpool (AFP) - The votes were being tallied late Saturday in the Eurovision final, as performers from 26 countries awaited the results of the eccentric much-loved song contest being staged in Britain on behalf of war-torn Ukraine.

The decision of juries in 37 participating countries and the voting public will be announced around 2300 GMT, after the usual eclectic array of musical acts took to the stage in host city Liverpool, northwest England.

Sweden and Finland were the bookmakers’ favourites heading into the world’s biggest live music event, beloved for its kitschy, quirky performances.

Rapper Kaarija, representing Finland, proved memorable with his track “Cha Cha Cha”, delivered in his distinctive green bolero-style jacket with spikes around the neck, which has become a craze in his homeland.

Sweden’s Loreen, who won in 2012, performed hotly tipped “Tattoo” in an illuminated enclosed space on the stage. If it proves victorious, the 39-year-old will join Ireland’s Johnny Logan as the only other two-time winner.

Last year's winners Kalush Orchestra opened the show before the 26 musical acts began taking their turn in the Eurovision spotlight

Despite the home crowd displaying plenty of support for Ukraine throughout the week of celebrations and preliminary rounds, it went wildest for the UK’s entry, Mae Muller, who closed out the performances.

She is hoping to emulate the success of Sam Ryder, who finished second in 2022 and performed his latest song – with Queen’s Roger Taylor on drums – during the voting for this year’s spectacle.

He was pipped to the coveted glass microphone trophy by last year’s victors, Kalush Orchestra, who also reappeared Saturday to kickstart the night.

The Ukrainian band performed in a pre-recorded video – featuring a surprise appearance by the Princess of Wales, Kate, playing the piano – as well as a live performance from the M&S Arena.

- ‘Home’ -

Runners-up Britain selected Liverpool – home of The Beatles – to stage the festival of Europop music after the organisers ruled it was impossible in Ukraine amid the ongoing war.

But the eastern European country has remained front and centre throughout.

The UK city of Liverpool, home of The Beatles, stepped in as hosts on behalf of Ukraine due to Russia's invasion

Ukrainians were among the 6,000 fans packed into the host venue, while more than 160 million people were estimated to be watching on television around the world.

“It feels like I’m home,” Vasylyna Kindrat, who fled Lviv in December, told AFP as she headed into the waterfront arena.

The 25-year-old added she was hoping for victory not in Eurovision “but for the war”.

Earlier, British spectators echoed the sentiment.

“We’re supporting Ukraine, our heart is bleeding for them,” said Jenny Birchett, 70, a theatre worker wearing Ukrainian colours.

“We feel it’s theirs, the Eurovision, more than ours,” she added, flanked by her daughter.

- ‘Dancing shoes’ -

Although there was the usual riot of colour, camp and unbridled joy, several finale songs evoked the war.

Switzerland’s young singer Remo Forrer carried a message of peace with his track “Watergun”.

Music duo Teya and Salena represented Austria during the final of the Eurovision Song Contest

Ukraine’s entry is “Heart of Steel”, an electro-pop offering by the band Tvorchi inspired by the siege of the Azovstal plant in Mariupol.

Meanwhile Croatia’s extravagantly mustachioed Let 3 performed “Mama SC”, seen as a veiled attack on Russia’s Vladimir Putin and “human stupidity”.

But bookmakers are not predicting a second successive win for Kyiv.

The UK is hosting the contest for the first time since 1998

France, which has not finished first since 1977, was represented by the Quebec singer La Zarra, who started her electro-disco entry “Obviously” from a column several metres above the ground.

Politics preceded the finale, with a row erupting Friday over a proposed appearance by Volodymyr Zelensky.

Organisers the European Broadcasting Union refused an invitation for the Ukrainian president to send a message for fear of politicising the event.

That came despite Russia being barred from participating and the overtly political message of some songs, and prompted criticism from the UK government.

Croatian rock band Let 3 say they are 'soldiers of love'

In a joint op-ed Saturday, Ukraine Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko and British Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer decried “the barbaric war being waged by (Russian President) Vladimir Putin” that had made hosting the contest in Ukraine impossible.

“In a peaceful world, this year’s contest would be taking place in Ukraine,” they wrote, noting “millions of people would be taking to the streets of Kyiv and lining the bars of cities like Dnipro, Kharkiv and Donetsk.

“The Eurovision Song Contest represents one of the best examples of how music can unite us all,” the pair added.

“So, get on your dancing shoes, warm up your vocal cords and enjoy the incredible show!”