Ukrainian singer Jamala created a song performed in 2016 and later gained popularity throughout Europe. It tells the story of Joseph Stalin’s order forcing many people out of their homes 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.
Now, Jamala is a refugee after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine prompted her and her children to seek asylum 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 artist hid in a Kyiv bomb shelter with her two children before she fled to Turkey, leaving her husband to fight against Russian troops.
The journey to safety was not easy. Jamala sang to her children to divert their attention from the dangers that might happen along the way.
“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 the Europeans to come together and stand behind her nation.
“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.