KIEV – Performing a song reviving war-time deportations of ethnic Tatars from Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula by Soviet dictator Stalin, Ukrainian Muslim Jamala won the Eurovision Song Contest to be met with celebrations across the country.
“Yes!!!” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tweeted. “An unbelievable performance and victory! All of Ukraine gives you its heartfelt thanks, Jamala”.
“Glory to Ukraine!” Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman added.
Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko, a former boxer who strongly backs Ukraine’s new shift toward the West, said he never doubted Jamala’s victory because she was “genuine”.
Jamala, 32, is a member of the Muslim Tatar minority of Crimea who saw her great-grandmother deported along with 240,000 others by Stalin in the penultimate year of Second World War.
Many of those died on the tortuous voyage to Central Asia and other distant lands.
Her song, 1944, revisits the war-time horrors that have been revived by Russia’s seizure of Crimea several weeks after a pro-EU revolt ousted Ukraine’s Moscow-backed president in February 2014.
“When strangers are coming, they come to your house, they kill you all and say, ‘we’re not guilty, not guilty’,” it says.
Though Russia protested the song as political, judges decided that Jamala’s song was “historical” in nature and allowed 1944 to compete.
“Justice would be served if the next Eurovision is held in Jamala’s historical homeland — Ukraine’s Crimea,” Mustafa Nayyem tweeted.
In 1944, on the pretext of false accusations of state treason, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ordered that 238,500 Tatars be forcibly deported from their homeland in Crimea as a form of collective punishment for their alleged collaboration with the Nazis.
The entire ethnic Crimean Tatar population, about one fifth of the total population of the Crimean Peninsula, as well as smaller number of ethnic Greeks and Bulgarians, were taken from their homes and transported mostly to Uzbekistan.
Between July 1944 and January 1947, almost 110,000, or 46% of the deportees, died of starvation and disease.
The Soviets confiscated their homes, destroying their mosques and turning them into warehouses. One was converted into a Museum of Atheism.
After Russian annexation of Crimea, fears of Muslim Tatars were doubled, voicing concerns over losing freedom and reviving the memories of exile and prosecution they faced in 1940s.
Fans in Kiev jumped for joy after the winner was announced.
“This song about our tragedy was sung globally and I hope that people heard it,” a young man called Emine said above the cheers.
“We would very much like for the next Eurovision to be held in Crimea — all the Crimean Tatars are expecting this and it would be right to have it in Ukrainian Crimea,” a fan named Anife added.
Lenur Islyamov, a businessman who organized blockades of traffic between mainland Ukraine and Crimea said Jamala’s victory spelled a personal defeat to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“This is our first, thumping victory over Putin’s Russia,” Lenur Islyamov wrote on Facebook.
“Crimean Tatars are not only [Ukraine’s] key to Crimea, but also to Europe itself.”
The leader of Crimea’s Mejlis, a Tatar ruling body that was banned by Russia last month, also celebrated Jamala’s success as a sign of a brighter future for his people.
“I would like to thank the many tens of thousands who supported Jamala in temporarily Russian-occupied Crimea,” Refat Chubarov wrote on Facebook.
“God willing, one wonderful day, we will all gather in a Crimea that is free of Russian invaders.”