By Sarah Mills and Paul Sandle
LIVERPOOL, England (Reuters) - Liverpool has opened its heart to Ukraine for Eurovision 2023, flying blue and yellow flags, offering special tickets to its refugees and adopting its cuisine, in addition to putting the country centre stage in three live shows.
The birthplace of the Beatles is hosting the annual song contest on behalf of Ukraine, 2022's winner which was not able to stage the musical extravaganza, as is customary, because of Russia's invasion.
But organisers have worked hard to showcase Ukraine to thousands of fans in the "City of Pop" and millions more watching around the world.
Fifteen-year-old Ukrainian Viktoriia Dubetska was one of 3,000 displaced Ukrainians who secured a 20 pound ($25) ticket to a run-through of the semi-final on Thursday. She has been living in Kent, south east England, for a year.
With a Ukrainian flag around her shoulders, she said she had been comparing the city with London, and Liverpool had come out on top. "We love Liverpool," she said. "(There's) a lot of Ukrainian symbols around and it feels like home a bit."
Liverpool has hosted some Ukrainians for much longer than this week, and they do not know when they will be able to return to their homeland.
Maria Ivakhiv and her six-year-old daughter Yeva have been living with physician Mirian Taegtmeyer and her family for eight months.
"We used to dream, to plan for the future," Ivakhiv said. "Now those dreams and plans have been broken."
But Eurovision is a moment of relief from worrying about her two sisters and four brothers - three of whom were in the army - at home. "Ukraine is all around, and I feel strong support," she said.
Bars and restaurants have embraced Eurovision and Ukraine's culture.
Paul Askew, chef patron of award-winning restaurant The Art School, has created a menu that marries the country's ingredients and produce local to Liverpool.
Special dishes include "Fillet of Loch Etive Trout 'Odessa'" and "Nalesniki", a gateaux of layered pancakes topped with hazelnut, raspberries and "amazing Ukrainian preserved baby pine cones in syrup", he said.
"Eurovision is such a joy to have in Liverpool and we're very conscious that we only have it because of the terrible things that are happening in Ukraine," he said.
"So as a chef, I wanted to give a nod to the two food cultures coming together."
Ukrainians will have to wait for Saturday's Grand Final to see if electro pop-duo Tvorchi can repeat last year's triumph.
($1 = 0.7923 pounds)
(Writing by Paul Sandle; Editing by Marguerita Choy)