Espreso. Global

13-year-old singer Sofia Samoliuk refuses to perform in San Remo because of Russian participation

5 May, 2023 Friday

For several years, young Ukrainian singer Sofia Samoliuk has been dreaming of participating in the prestigious Sanremo Junior international competition in Italy

She put in a lot of effort and overcame many difficulties to represent Ukraine in the world with dignity. However, when she learned that a competitor from Russia would be performing on the same stage, she decided to stop competing in the very final of the contest.

Sofia Samoliuk, who is still in Italy, told Espreso what was the hardest part of her performance and why she decided to give a speech about the war instead of a song.

A teacher gave voice lessons from a bomb shelter

Sofia can't imagine her life without music, the piano and the big stage. She remembers how she started singing in kindergarten and immediately the song took center stage in her heart. Already at the age of 11, the artist participated in the Black Sea Games, where she won the grand prix.

Olena, Sofia's mother, says that the girl started singing even earlier than in kindergarten, when she was in diapers. But she was not surprised, because everyone in the family was involved in singing.

“As soon as she was born, I already thought she would sing. I used to dream of singing, my grandmother used to sing, and my husband's family had relatives connected with music. This singing is passed down through the genes,” Olena said. 

However, in order to achieve her goals, the girl had to work hard, and because of the war, she had to do it in unsuitable conditions. On the day of the full-scale invasion, the child was sleeping peacefully in her bed.

“I remember that night well. We were all scared and paralyzed. At 4 am, my mom woke me up and just said: 'Get your things.' At first I thought we were going somewhere because I didn't believe that the war had started. I was very scared, and then I heard explosions. My parents decided that we should move to a safe place for a while. We moved to Bratislava with my brother, sister and two animals. Now I have to take vocal lessons online,” she says.

It's difficult to practice vocals via video, says Sofia. The lessons lack a microphone and some professional equipment. In addition, the teacher in Ukraine often conducted lessons from a shelter.

“After they put notes on our doors, I wrote on Facebook that we were from Ukraine, we were studying music, and now we were forced to conduct our classes online. At that time, the electricity was still constantly being cut off in Ukraine, and we were still tied to that, because the teacher could not always join us,” Sofia and her mother recall. 

Italians were not ready to hear about the war in Ukraine

But despite the difficult preparation and the fact that they were temporarily living in a foreign country, Sofia still submitted an online application for the Italian competition.

“We sent a video and were very happy when we received a positive response. We dreamed of this festival, because there are few competitions of this level and this is one of the most famous. World stars like Michael Jackson have performed on this stage,” Sofia's mother said. 

The singer and her mother arrived at the contest in San Remo, Italy, which was held under the auspices of the international organization UNICEF, in advance, on April 30, as the organizers had set the conditions. They also indicated the hotels where the contestants were to stay. Participation and accommodation were paid for individually.

“It was a very difficult decision not to perform the song at the competition after all these events. We tried to reach the organizers until the very end. I tried to call them, but I couldn't get through to them - the numbers they provided were not answering. I managed to meet with them only on the day of the performance, a few hours before the competition itself, when the final rehearsal was already taking place in the hall. It was a very difficult conversation. They were not ready to listen to anything at all. One of the organizers was very aggressive, shouting that they were not interested, that they had peace here and that all children had the right to be on stage,” Olena recalled. 

She adds that she tried her best to explain to them what is happening in Ukraine, that children are dying, and a few days ago six of our children were killed in their beds. Therefore, it is impossible to allow a terrorist country to be represented at such a festival.

“I was told: 'If you want, you don't have to participate'. Alternatively, they said that both of us would be disqualified. That was the conversation,” Sofia's mother said.

Sofia with her mother


She didn't just want to leave, she wanted to make her position heard

Despite the difficult decision, Sofia is convinced that it was the right one.

“At that moment, I knew that I simply could not perform on the same stage with a representative of Russia, even on the day when a rocket hit the Epicenter in Kherson, when more than 20 people died there. For me, this is just nonsense,” Sofia said.

When the girl went on stage, she read the text that she had hidden in her jacket. She was afraid that the letter would be taken away, because she was not sure if the organizers would find out that this performance would be allowed.

“We were told that we could not perform, even though many people called Sofia one of the most powerful performers and one of the main contenders for the victory. We believed that we should not just leave, but rather use our time on this stage to remind everyone that we have a war going on. That we cannot just hide behind beautiful phrases about peace and children and pretend that everything is fine. That's why we didn't say we wouldn't participate, so that we could take the microphone and make this statement. It was emotionally difficult to go on that stage, in another country, in front of that audience, and make that speech. So we wrote a speech, and Sonia hid it in her jacket so that they wouldn't take it away from her,” Olena, Sofia's mother, said. 

Until the very last moment, the woman hoped that the organizers would respond to the situation, but when the hosts loudly announced the boy's name and surname from the stage, noting that he was from Russia, everything became completely clear.

“The organizers did not want to understand the situation and said that they 'did not want to hear anything'. We were also preparing for the fact that the microphone would be cut off. But we are glad that everything worked out, that Sofia said what she wanted to say. We believe that this is important for Ukraine and Ukrainians,” the girl's mother emphasized. 

After the speech, the audience applauded. But the Ukrainian participant did not hear a single word from the organizers.

“They didn't contact me, write to me, apologize to me, nothing like that. Instead, we were approached by people from the audience, mostly Ukrainians. They thanked us for our position. Several participants also wrote to us, including those from Lithuania and Indonesia.”

Refusal to perform one song, even on such a prestigious stage, will not affect Sofia's singing plans. The next day after the Sanremo Junior final, the girl presented a video for the English-Ukrainian song Earth, created to draw global attention to the war in Ukraine.

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