THE LOCAL: After weeks of war, a long journey, and emigration to Sweden, you still found the strength to participate in charity concerts in your first month here in Sweden. Tell us about your journey to Melodifestivalen.
Maria Sur: The next day after I arrived in Sweden from Ukraine, I started looking for opportunities to work. It was obvious that whining and suffering would not help anyone, so I had to do something that would give me strength and help other people.
Since my passion is singing, I decided to continue working on it. I literally wrote to a lot of popular Swedish singers to find a way of making my dream come true and eventually, one of them helped to take part in my first charity singing festival for Ukraine.
As a result, we collected €8 million to help Ukraine. A few days after the festival, I got spotted by Warner Music Sweden. After a meeting and talk about my goals and skills, we started cooperating with them, and after a few months of hard work, we decided to take part in Melodifestivalen.
Now I live for today. Now I know that no one in the whole world can know what awaits us all tomorrow. Of course, I continue to dream, it helps, but I can no longer plan, or live in illusions. And it’s scary that young people like me think this way. That we live one day at a time.
My first goal at Melodifestivalen is to do a really quality performance that I will be proud of. I want to feel after the performance, “I did everything I could. I did the best I could. It was honest. People felt it.”.
That is more important for me than results.
THE LOCAL: Your song for Melodifestivalen is called “Never give up”. What is the message your song has for listeners?
Maria Sur: “Never give up” is a song about my way, about my personal fight. This is my motto. You have to go forward no matter what. This is about my experience before the war, when I fought for a long time to end up singing on a big stage in Ukraine. And this is about my road now, when despite the war, separation from relatives and home, I still go on. With this message, I want to encourage Ukrainians and everyone in the whole world who needs to know it, to continue fighting on his own path. I don’t want to be pitied or win sympathy. My song is about resilience. My story is sad, but it is about strength.
THE LOCAL: Russia’s full-scale invasion caught us Ukrainians sleeping. What were the first weeks of life in the new reality in Ukraine like? And how do you see your journey as a refugee shortly afterwards?
Maria Sur: I remember February 24th clearly. Early in the morning, I had online lessons at school, I was going to go to an English class, and in a few hours it became obvious that the war had started. It was very unexpected for me personally. We hadn’t had any conversations in our family about it before it happened.
I remember very well how many people I saw panicking, at the same time air raid sirens were sounding continuously and everyone ran to the basement. My family could not believe that all those things were happening. We were convinced that everything would be over in a few days. That is why we didn’t want to leave Ukraine.
My family always stick together. However, in two weeks it became clear. We must leave my city, Zaporizhzhia. For three days we could not pack for the journey. Whenever we attempted to do it, we sat down and cried. Eventually, Dad stayed at home, and Mom and me were forced to go.
I remember the train station in my city at that time – huge queues, a lot of people and everyone crying, saying goodbye to each other. The trains were completely packed with children and women. It was impossible to cross the carriage of the train because of the hundreds of people inside.
My city is located in the southeast of Ukraine, so we were evacuated to Poland by travelling almost through the whole of Ukraine. It took a very long time. At the border with Poland, they did not want to let the train pass, because it was completely full of people.
So we were sent back to Lviv, a city in the west of Ukraine. Still, a few days later we got to Poland. Later in March we flew to Sweden to my aunt.
How you have changed in the months that have passed since the war started?
Maria Sur: I have grown up very quickly. I started to appreciate things that I used to ignore. I started to support my parents and my friends. I look differently at things such as happiness. For instance, I was happy when I got the news that I had been selected for Melodifestivalen. But it was not the same joy as I felt before the war, especially since, five minutes previously, I had talked to my dad, who is now in Ukraine, and told me everything that is happening there now.
Despite everything, we must go on living. If we have this chance to live, we should take everything from it to the maximum. That’s what I’m trying to do, and that’s what I’m singing about.
Today, we must not stop talking about the war in Ukraine, we must continue to organise charity concerts, as well as make music to support people.