Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Ukraine singer wins Eurovision amid controversy

Published:Monday | May 16, 2016 | 5:00 AM
People celebrate while watching TV as Jamala of Ukraine wins the final of the Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm, in a restaurant in Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday.

Crimean Tatars on Sunday celebrated Ukrainian singer Jamala's win at Eurovision with a song that sheds light on their horrific deportations to Central Asia under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin but also hints at their recent treatment under Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Many Russians, whose Eurovision entry won the popular vote but finished third when the national juries' votes were added, said they felt robbed of the win because of political bias.

Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 was condemned by the United States and European Union, which responded by imposing punishing sanctions. Inside Crimea, the seizure of territory from Ukraine was most strongly opposed by the Tatar minority, who now face persecution on the Moscow-ruled Black Sea peninsula.

"This song is about our tragedy ... and I hope that people heard this," said Emine Ziyatdinova, a 27-year-old Crimean Tatar who was among those celebrating the win at a Tatar restaurant in Kiev. Jamala's song, '1944', recalls how Crimean Tatars, including her great-grandmother, were deported during World War II.

In the space of three days in May 1944, all 200,000 Tatars, who then made up a third of Crimea's population, were put on trains and shipped off to Central Asia upon Stalin's orders, suspected of collaborating with the Nazis during their long occupation of the peninsula during the war.

 

STARVED TO DEATH

 

Thousands died during the gruelling journey or starved to death in the barren steppes upon their arrival. In the decades after the war, the Soviet Union developed Crimea as a naval base and a tourist destination, dominated by ethnic Russians along with Ukrainians.

It was not until the 1980s that the Tatars were allowed to return to their native land. Jamala, the stage name for Susana Jamaladinova, was born in the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan in 1983. She now lives in Kiev.

The lyrics of her song don't touch on Russia's annexation of Crimea, and Jamala insists there's no political subtext.