Life is an echo of art for the Eurovision refugee from Ukraine

ISTANBUL, March 18 (Reuters) – Six years ago, Ukrainian singer Jamala swept Europe with a song about the deportation of hundreds of thousands of people from her Black Sea native Crimea by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin during World War II.

“When strangers come, they come to your house. They kill you all and say ‘We’re not guilty,'” she sang in a somber anthem that usually made the surprise 2016 Eurovision Song Contest winner a celebration of light-hearted camp.

Now Jamala is a refugee herself, having fled Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, which pushed her and her children to seek safety outside of Ukraine.

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“On February 24, my husband woke me up and told me that the war had started and that Russia had attacked us. At that moment I was shocked. It felt like a nightmare,” she told Reuters in an interview in Istanbul.

The 38-year-old, whose real name is Susana Jamaladinova, took shelter in a Kiev air raid shelter before fleeing to Turkey with her two children – leaving her husband behind to fight the oncoming Russian army.

The road to safety was not easy, and she sang to her children to distract them from the danger.

“We were in the car and we heard this bzzzz sound. We saw (a missile) ahead,” she said, describing her confusion about whether to proceed or turn back. “I was lost, but I had to move forward. It was scary.”

Jamala, a Crimean Tatar whose relatives were victims of the 1944 deportations, called on Europeans to unite behind their country.

“It’s not just a Ukrainian war, it’s a war against European values,” she said. “I think we’re all in the same boat.”

She took that message to Berlin earlier this month, where she re-performed her 2016 song at a preliminary round of this year’s Eurovision – this time to campaign for support for the Ukrainian army. Russia, which describes its offensive in Ukraine as a “military special operation,” is in lockdown this year. Continue reading

One of the favorites for the Eurovision final, which has a huge global television audience, is the Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine. Despite operating from the west of the country, which has been less affected by the three-week conflict, the band members have had to rehearse separately while taking on wartime duties.

Lead singer Oleh Psiuk leads a 20-strong volunteer group that delivers medicine and helps people flee the war. His girlfriend makes Molotov cocktails, and another band member serves in the Territorial Defense Unit. Continue reading

For Jamala, who was initially hesitant to perform while her country was under fire, doubts disappeared as she began to sing, “It seems to me that now I can do just that. If I can sing and raise money to help Ukraine, I will keep doing it.”

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Reporting by Yesim Dikmen; Additional reporting by Margaryta Chornokondratenko; Editing by Dominic Evans and Tom Hogue

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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