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Russia attacked the hometown of Ukraine's Eurovision band just before its performance

Tvorchi performs "Heart of Steel" on stage during the 2023 Eurovision Grand final in Liverpool, England. They finished in sixth place, behind Sweden, Finland, Israel, Italy and Norway.
Dominic Lipinski
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Tvorchi performs "Heart of Steel" on stage during the 2023 Eurovision Grand final in Liverpool, England. They finished in sixth place, behind Sweden, Finland, Israel, Italy and Norway.

As the Ukrainian band Tvorchi prepared to take the stage of the Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool, England, on Saturday, its members learned Russian missiles had just hit their hometown. Then came another attack.

Ukrainian producer Andrii Hutsuliak and Nigerian-born vocalist and songwriter Jeffrey Kenny, who make up the electronic music duo Tvorchi, are based in the western Ukrainian city of Ternopil.

City officials in Ternopil later confirmed that two people were injured in the attack, according to Reuters.

Tvorchi referenced the missile strike in Instagram posts before and after their performance of "Heart of Steel."

"Ternopil is the name of our hometown, which was bombed by Russia while we sang on the Eurovision stage about our steel hearts, indomitability and will," they wrote. "This is a message for all cities of Ukraine that are shelled every day. ... Europe, unite against evil for the sake of peace!"

Hutsuliak and Kenny wrote "Heart of Steel" last spring as they watched Ukrainian fighters defending the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, an experience they told NPR about in February.

"It's a song about unbreakable people who [no matter] how bad the situation happened in their life, it doesn't stop them," Hutsuliak said from Ternopil via Zoom.

Russia has not said it targeted the city because of the competition.

Last year, after Ukrainian folk-rap group Kalush Orchestra won Eurovision, reports surfaced of handwritten messages on Russian missiles referencing the band's onstage calls for aid. "Kalush, as you requested! To #Azovstal," reads the translation of a message on one of the reported missiles.

The attacks happened before and during the show

Ternopil came under a pair of overnight attacks on Saturday, reports The New Voice of Ukraine. Missiles hit an industrial warehouse, destroyed two private houses and damaged a dozen more.

Missile fragments also damaged civilian commercial and business facilities and nine trucks, and sparked a warehouse fire, Ternopil Mayor Serhiy Nadal said. City officials said the two people injured had been hospitalized with shrapnel wounds and burns.

One of the attacks happened during Tvorchi's Eurovision final performance, Nadal wrote on Facebook.

"Thank you, because your speech has become a symbol of not only the unity of the country, but of the whole world," he said.

It shows why Ukraine didn't host this year

Melinda Simmons, Britain's ambassador to Ukraine, applauded the duo's "brave hearts" in a tweet, noting their performance took place "minutes after their university home town had been bombed" by Russia.

"This #Eurovision night Ukraine is under another Russian missile attack," she wrote. "Reminder that the reason why [Ukraine] could not host this event is because [Russia] continues to invade and the people of [Ukraine] live in continuing danger."

Ukraine won Eurovision last year, but a panel of security experts and broadcasters deemed it unfit to host this year's competition because of the war. The U.K., last year's runner-up, ended up staging it in Liverpool "on behalf of Ukraine."

Sweden won this year's competition, and Tvorchi placed sixth. The band from Ukraine later wrote on Instagram that the fact that so much of the audience voted for Tvorchi "shows our unity."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.