Interview with Australian-Ukrainian Eurovision fan Tim from Perth
The first semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest in Turin happened today, and current favourites Ukraine qualified for the Grand Final.
The fact Ukraine are even there is a victory in itself, with the nation at war with Russia.
There are tens of thousands of people of Ukrainian descent in Australia and one of them is Tim Juszczuk-Soltys, a Eurovision fan from Perth.
With so much news around Ukraine at Eurovision we wanted to chat to him to find out more about his Eurovision journey, the connection to his heritage and he thoughts on the entry.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are what you do?
Thank you for asking! I’m Tim, but also known as Ivan (or Vanya) with my family in Ukraine.
I grew up in Melbourne, but at the age of 24 I decided to leave Melbourne for the bright lights of Perth!
Coming from a very musical family, music has always been my first love. So when I finished a Psych degree, I went on to study Musical Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts.
I currently work in the mining industry for a WA-based Mining Company, which is worlds away from my first love and from what I've studied.
Since the war in Ukraine began, I've also been heavily involved with organising events and rallies that help create awareness and assist in fundraising for various projects and charities in Ukraine.
As well as being involved with the Ukrainian community, I'm also involved with the Maori community through an organisation called 'Haka For Life', which was created as a platform for men who suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mind/mental health issues, to self-express through the power of Haka. I've been the coordinator for our entry for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras for the past 2 years, and we were blessed to have received the 'Best Choreography' Award for 2021.
What is your Eurovision journey, how did you get into the Contest?
I’ve been watching Eurovision ever since I can remember. It was always a Sunday night, and often, on Mother’s Day. I remember sitting on the lounge room floor, in my pyjamas, with my Milo in hand, with my whole family... mum, dad, my brothers, my grandparents. I remember always waiting for them to announce 'Ukraine' as an entry, and always going to bed disappointed that yet again, Ukraine never showed up. At the time, I didn't understand that Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, and that they wouldn't be able to perform as an independent country until many years later.
Fast forward to 2016, I was on Long Service Leave, and happened to be in Europe in May. I was extremely fortunate enough to get a fan package, and attended my first Eurovision, in Stockholm! What an experience that was. I was so torn between Dami Im, and Jamala. I had both the Australian flag and the Ukrainian flag at the ready. I was travelling on my own, didn't know anyone, and also attended the contest on my own. I remember calling my dad back in Australia, during the voting, and saying 'Dad, I think I'm having a heart attack!' Being there, watching Ukraine win, was just surreal. But at the same time, I would have been just as easily elated if Dami Im had won for Australia.
Since Stockholm, I have also been fortunate enough to travel to both Kyiv and Lisbon for the contest.
What is your connection to Ukraine?
Three of my four grandparents were born in Ukraine. Even though I was born in Australia, Ukrainian was my first language, with my grandparents, my dad, and my brother speaking to me in Ukrainian since day dot. My mum was born in Poland, so she would speak to me in a bit of a hybrid Ukrainian/Polish language. We were a tri-lingual household!
I attended Ukrainian language school every Saturday until I was 15, where I learnt to read and write in Ukrainian.
Most of my extended family live in Ukraine and Belarus (my family in Belarus are ethnic Ukrainians), and I've been fortunate enough to have spent many months, over countless visits with them, exploring and nurturing my Ukrainian roots.
What is the Ukrainian community like in Australia?
The Ukrainian community in Australia is small but strong and thriving! There are approximately 50,000 people of Ukrainian descent here in Australia.
There have been three main waves of Ukrainians arriving into Australia. The first being those arriving after World War 2, and their descendants They established the first Ukrainian churches, community centres, and Saturday Ukrainian schools, all of which are still in operation today.
The second group are those who arrived after the fall of Communism in 1991, with a large majority being of Ukrainian Jewish descent.
The third group are those who are arriving today due to the current war in Ukraine. The Australian government has granted 5000 visas, and the approximate number of people that have arrived over the past few months has been approx 2500.
Ukraine is going into Eurovision as the favourites, what do you think of the entry?
It’s really difficult for me to separate my love for Ukraine, with the Ukrainian entry every year.
But to be honest, I love Kalush Orchestra. I watched Vidbir (the Ukrainian Eurovision selection), and they were my clear favourites.
What I really love about Kalush Orchestra is their mix of traditional and modern.
Ukraine has always been pretty masterful at this...Ruslana with 'Wild Dances' and Jamala with '1944'.
But this year, Kalush Orchestra takes it to an even higher level. Traditional Ukrainian sounds with rap/hip-hop is so unique, but it just works!
I think that the Eurovision fan-base always has a love of ethnic sounds, together with a modern twist.
I understand you may have a connection to the song's subject, 'Stefania', tell us about that.
My cousin Oksana lives in the town of Kalush. I posted a video of KalushOrchestra on Facebook recently, and she casually responded with ‘Stefania is my neighbour’. I was dumbfounded. I responded with ‘THE Stefania?!?’, and she responded with a ‘Yes, Mama Stefania. Oleg’s mum’.
How important is it for Ukraine to be on stage in Turin this year?
Since Ukraine has participated in Eurovision, this year is the most important year. For a start, men aged between 18 and 60 aren't permitted to leave the country. Kalush Orchestra have been given special permission by the government to leave the country. One of the original members has decided to stay in Ukraine and fight. It isn't widely known, but MC Kilimen (Ihor) was a member of Go_A last year, and has replaced him.
It's unfortunate that Ukraine is no longer a 'hot topic' in a lot of the Australian, and I'm guessing, the European and world-wide news outlets.
Ukraine is there to represent, and to remind that world that the country is still here, will still be here, and will always be, once the war is done and dusted.
Some people feel a Ukrainian win would be "too political", what would your response be to that?
I guess it depends on what you would classify as ‘too political'. Too political is Greece and Cyprus giving each other 12 points, or the former Yugoslav republics giving each other 12 points, the Scandinavian countries giving each other 12 points, and the former Soviet republics giving each other 12 points.
There’s no doubt that the situation in Ukraine this year has given the country a significant advantage. And yes, it might be a sympathy vote (rather than a political vote), but as Michael Ben David from Israel has said 'They need to win everything. They need to win their country back. Not only Eurovision'
But at the same time, Kalush Orchestra is giving Eurovision a song that’s so unique, and so different to any other song in the contest this year. They were always going to be in the Top 5.
Ukraine has such an incredible record at Eurovision, what do you think they are so successful?
Ukraine is a nation of singers. Most Ukrainians can hold a tune, and singing is an important part of everyday life. Being part of the Ukrainian community here in Australia, almost all events will feature a song or two where all the community will join in and sing, no matter how good or bad their voices are.
At the same time, Ukrainians will either give 100%, or nothing. Looking at previous years, you can see that Ukraine gives their all, or won't settle for second or third best (Kalush Orchestra being the exception...because of winning the public vote).
It must be a very difficult time for you and your family, how are you doing with everything that has been happening?
To be honest, whilst I'm a bit of sensitive soul, I'm not a crier. The first two weeks of the war, I would come home from work, message my family in Ukraine, and watch the Ukrainian news. And it broke me. The tears would flow every day, until I was cried out. Nothing would surprise me any more. It was, and still is so surreal. One of my cousins said "A rocket hit the town 5km from here, but we are calm and peaceful". 5km from here is from the Melbourne CBD to St Kilda. Or from the Sydney CBD to Stanmore. Or from Perth CBD to Mt Hawthorn. And they say that it's calm and peaceful. It's just unimaginable.
Do you have a message you would like to pass on to Eurovision fans about Ukraine?
Thank you all for your support. Whilst I’m not Ukrainian-born, Ukrainian blood runs through my veins.
But, the contest isn't about me.
I don't implore anyone to vote for Ukraine because of the current situation.
Vote with your heart and soul. If that happens to be with Ukraine, then more power to you!
Besides Ukraine, I also have my favourites.
Do you have any final comments?
After Eurovision is over, don't forget about Ukraine.
What's happening in Ukraine is the biggest humanitarian crisis since WW2. 11 million people have been displaced from their homes. More than 4 million people have fled the country.
Hundreds of thousands have been killed.
Kalush Orchestra have said that if they win this year, they will host Eurovision 2023 in a newly rebuilt and thriving Ukraine, and I wholeheartedly believe them.
Slava Ukraini! Glory to Ukraine!