Ukrainian singer Jamala wrote a song about Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin’s order that caused many people from her Black Sea motherland of Crimea to be exiled during the Cold War.
“When strangers are coming, they come to your house. They kill you all and say ‘We’re not guilty,'” sang Jamala in a melancholy tune that secured the top place for the Eurovision Song Contest, an international songwriting competition annually held by the European Broadcasting Union, in 2016.
After escaping from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine, Jamala became a refugee and sought asylum somewhere outside the country.
In an interview in Istanbul, she said, “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.”
The 38-year-old songwriter sought cover in a bomb shelter with her two children in Kyiv before heading to Turkey, leaving her husband behind to combat Russian forces in their homeland.
The journey to safety was far from easy. “We were in the car, and we heard this bzzzz noise. We saw [a rocket] in front of us,” she stated, recounting her hesitation to make a decision: to continue or fall back. “I was lost, but I had to go forward. It was scary.”
The Crimean Tatar encouraged Europeans to stand united and support their country in need.
“It is not only a Ukrainian war; it is a war against European values,” she stated. “I think we are all in the same boat.”
Earlier this month, she carried that message to Berlin, where she sang that 2016 masterpiece at a preliminary round of the Eurovision this year to endorse support for the Ukrainian forces. Russia is banned from the competition this year.
“It seems to me that now this is what I can do. If I can sing and raise money to help Ukraine, I will continue to do it,” said Jamala, who was reluctant to perform at first while her country was under siege but claimed that doubts disappeared into thin air when she began singing.