Ukraine’s Tvorchi have delivered an impassioned performance at the Eurovision Song Contest final as members of the audience waved their national flag.
The electronic duo, made up of producer Andrii Hutsuliak and Nigeria-raised vocalist Jeffery Kenny, are hoping to defend the title after Kalush Orchestra swept to victory last year on a wave of public support.
Their song Heart Of Steel, inspired by the bravery of the Ukrainian people, drew cheers from the audience at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool after it featured lyrics in both English and Ukrainian.
— BBC Eurovision (@bbceurovision) May 13, 2023
At the end of their performance, the pair held their fists in the air as acts from other nations were also seen waving the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine.
Bookmakers have predicted Tvorchi will perform well with the voting public but they face stiff competition from runaway favourites Sweden and Finland.
Earlier, Swedish pop superstar Loreen, who triumphed in 2012, performed her anthemic dance-pop song Tattoo from an illuminated enclosed space.
The 39-year-old could become the first woman – and only the second person – to claim the coveted glass microphone trophy twice.
Finland’s Kaarija sang his eccentric hyper-pop track Cha Cha Cha wearing a luminous green bolero-style jacket with spikes around the neck.
He began the performance in a wooden crate, which he broke his way out of and climbed on, before being joined by backing dancers in bright pink.
Italy’s Marco Mengoni sang Due Vite – the second time he has competed at Eurovision after coming seventh in 2013.
Belgium entrant Gustaph then performed the house music-flavoured Because Of You wearing a white wide-brimmed hat, pink parachute pants and a white blazer.
He was joined on stage by a voguing dancer and three other backing performers.
There were also eye-catching early performances from French entry La Zarra, who wore a black sparkly full-length dress and circular headpiece, as well as Spanish singer Blanca Paloma, and the Cyprus pop vocalist Andrew Lambrou.
Twenty-six acts are performing at the M&S Bank Arena to an expected global audience of 160 million viewers, according to the BBC.
The city is hosting on behalf of war-torn Ukraine, who won last year’s contest but are unable to host due to the Russian invasion.
The night opened with a pre-recorded video featuring last year’s winners Kalush Orchestra – and a surprise appearance from the Princess of Wales, playing the piano.
They were joined by 2022 runner-up Sam Ryder playing guitar on the top of the Liver Building on the Liverpool waterfront, with Andrew Lloyd Webber on piano.
The Chemical Brothers track Hey Boy Hey Girl was played as the countries competing in the final began to walk on to the stage with their national flags.
Former Ukrainian contestants Go_A, Tina Karol and Jamala, who won for Ukraine in 2016, performed in between the contestants appearing.
The UK’s Mae Muller walked out on to the stage before the crowd were treated to a performance from Verka Serduchka, who entered the contest for Ukraine in 2007.
Graham Norton welcomed viewers to the final alongside co-hosts Alesha Dixon, Hannah Waddingham and Ukrainian singer Julia Sanina.
Waddingham said the UK was “so very proud” to be “taking the reins” and hosting on behalf of Ukraine, while Sanina thanked the British public.
Norton, the UK’s long-standing commentator on the show, added: “United we are – well, out here. But backstage the competition is fierce.”
Dixon wore a one-shouldered blue sparkly dress, while Sanina wore a full-length yellow dress with a structured neckline, and Waddingham styled an off-the-shoulder purple metallic dress.
Preparations for the final were dampened by the news that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky had been barred from making an address.
On Thursday, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which produces the event, said it had declined Mr Zelensky’s request to speak on Saturday over fears it could politicise the contest.
The move prompted criticism from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his predecessor Boris Johnson, among other figures.
The grand final comes after a week of festivities in Liverpool, with two semi-finals dictating the line-up for Saturday’s showdown.
The so-called “big five” nations – the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain – each get a free pass to the final because of their financial contributions to the event, along with last year’s winners Ukraine.