Ukrainian singer Jamala wins Eurovision competition

Updated 7:40 AM EDT, Sun May 15, 2016
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CNN —  

Jamala of Ukraine on Sunday won the immensely popular Eurovision Song Contest with a somber, controversial tune that evokes Moscow’s deportation of members of her Crimean ethnic group during World War II.

She sang “1944,” a song about the deportation of Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union on orders of Josef Stalin. Her performance also was considered a strong rebuke to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2014 military push into Ukraine, according to European media reports. Russia annexed Crimea.

Russian state media this week called the song anti-Russian; Moscow said it violated Eurovision rules.

Contest officials ruled the song didn’t breach rules preventing “lyrics, speeches or gestures of a political or similar nature.”

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tweeted his congratulations to Jamala.

Ukraine missed the competition last year because of its financial crisis, according to British media.

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Jamala’s inspiration

Jamala, whose full name is Susana Jamaladynova, told Ukraine Today in February that she wrote the song because she was inspired by a story her great-grandmother told her about the deportation of her family and others in Crimea at the orders of Josef Stalin.

“I would prefer that all these terrible things did not happen to my great-grandmother, and I would even prefer if this song did not exist,” the tearful competitor told reporters after the competition.

Stalin accused the Tatars of collaborating with the Germans during World War II, according to Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Jamala said that the composition is about all people who are victims of past tragedies. She prepared for the contest by listening to the soundtrack from the Holocaust movie “Schindler’s List.” Jamala said she hopes her song will have the same power as the movie’s music.

’Don’t swallow my soul’

The song’s lyrics begin:

When strangers are coming /

They come to your house /

They kill you all /

and say, We’re not guilty, not guilty /

Where is your mind? /

Humanity cries /

You think you are gods /

But everyone dies /

Don’t swallow my soul

There is no specific mention of Russia or its rulers.

Jamala: So much sadness

Jamala told the UK’s Guardian newspaper this week in a phone interview that she had not been home since Moscow’s intervention.

“Of course, it’s about 2014 as well,” she told the newspaper. “These two years have added so much sadness to my life.”

“I really want peace and love to everyone,” Jamala said as she accepted the winner’s trophy. Later, at the news conference, she said: “I was sure that if you sing, if you talk about truth, it can really touch people. And I was right.”

Tributes for the singer’s gutsy performance came flooding in. Justin Timberlake, who performed as a non-competitor at the event, tweeted “#CantStopTheFeeling #Eurovision. Congrats @jamala #Ukraine!!”

“Can’t Stop the Feeling” is Timberlake’s latest song, which he debuted at the competition.

A European institution

Eurovision is the longest-running international TV song contest. It was held this year in Stockholm, Sweden, after Mans Zelmerlow, a 29-year-old from the Swedish capital, won the 2015 competition.

Since its first broadcast in 1956, Eurivision has been known its unique blend of ballads and big hair, politics, patriotism and Europop.

It’s one of the longest-running TV shows in the world – and with estimated annual audiences of 180 million, according to broadcaster the European Broadcasting Union, arguably one of the best loved.

Past winners included Lordi, a Finnish metal band dressed as Orcs and Conchita Wurst, a glamorous bearded lady from Austria.

Dami Im of Australia finished second after getting high marks from the professional judges.
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Dami Im of Australia finished second after getting high marks from the professional judges.

Australia’s Im representing her country in its second-ever appearance in the competitionwon the most points (320) from the jury panels of professionals in 42 countries participating in the voting, but didn’t get enough points from viewer call-in votes and finished second.

“This is such a dream, thank you #Eurovision!,” she said on social media. “So honored to be performing on this stage tonight.”

Russia’s Sergey Lazarev finished third.

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CNN’s Matthew Chance in Moscow and Lonzo Cook, Samantha Beech and Bijan Hosseini contributed to this report.