KIEV — Ukrainian politicians hailed their country’s surprise weekend victory in the Eurovision Song Contest as a continent-wide endorsement in their smoldering conflict with Russia, while Moscow said the competition had been hijacked by politics.
Ukrainian singer Jamala overtook the bookmakers’ favorites, Russia and Australia, to win the usually lighthearted contest with the song “1944,” about the wartime deportations of ethnic Tatars from Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
The singer, who is of Crimean Tatar descent, had drawn parallels in interviews to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, which provoked Western condemnation of the Kremlin and was opposed by many in the region’s Tatar minority.
Under Eurovision rules, her victory on Saturday evening means that the 2017 contest will take place in the Ukrainian capital.
After the results were announced in Stockholm, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wrote on Twitter: “Personally congratulated Jamala with the victory. Today her voice spoke to the world on behalf of the entire Ukrainian people. The truth, as always, prevailed!”
Ukraine’s victory, 12 years after it last won the Eurovision title, lifted the mood of people worn down by two years of conflict with Russian-backed separatists in the east as well as political crises, corruption and poverty nationwide.
“I am so happy,” said Nastya, a barista from Kiev. “It is a small victory for Ukraine; it strengthens the spirit of our people.”
Greeted by fans on her arrival in Kiev on Sunday evening, Jamala said the win was double-edged.
“I think it’s a big opportunity for us, and, at the same time, it is a huge responsibility because Europe trusted us,” she said.
On Sunday, Ukraine marked an annual day of remembrance for victims of political repression, including Soviet purges of Crimean Tatars and other groups on Ukrainian soil.
Tatars, a Muslim people indigenous to the Black Sea peninsula, number about 300,000 in a population of 2 million. Although many residents of Crimea want to be ruled by Moscow, many Tatars have opposed Moscow’s annexation.
That has unleashed fresh tensions. Two weeks ago, the Russian administration in Crimea banned the Crimean Tatars’ highest ruling body, the Mejlis, and there have been accusations of systematic persecution of the Tatars.
Several Russian politicians said a pop music contest that is supposed to be free of politics had been skewed by political considerations and anti-Russian stereotypes.
“Geopolitics won on aggregate. Political meddling triumphed over fair competition,” Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the upper house of the Russian parliament, wrote in a Facebook post.