Singer Manizha Sangin says she determined to fight for what's right and has been performing despite being 'cancelled' in Russia due to her comments against the war in Ukraine.
Since her Eurovision performance for Russia in 2021, Manizha Sangin has been targeted by a cyber bullying campaign over her opposition to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The Tajik-born singer called it a "fraternal conflict" that goes "against the will" of the Russian people.
Her song 'Soldier', originally written about the civil war in her homeland, was released soon after the invasion, and contains the words: "Stop the war."
This was followed by the cancellation of many of her concerts in Russia after details of the organisers were posted on social media, with demands for them to be scrapped.
"The people who were managing our shows said their club will close or they will lose their jobs. They had threats. That's why they called us and said "sorry, but we cannot do a show with you" explains Manizha".
"Sometimes it's pretty dangerous to say some things out loud. And I always need to be honest. It's impossible to shut me down" she says.
Of her Eurovision Song Contest performance, Manizha remains proud as "it was about freedom, about equality. You know, we don't see these things right now".
In 2019 after the success of her video Mama denouncing domestic abuse, she created the charity foundation and app SILSILA - which allows victims of violence to call for help more easily.
The organisation is primarily focused on helping female refugees and migrants in Russia who find themselves in emergency situations.
In 2020 she became the first goodwill ambassador for the UN Refugee Agency appointed to Russia.
"Before the war, I was a very successful star in Russia. I had many performances per month...and I had huge contracts with huge brands like Adidas and Dove".
"And of course, when the war started, I was cancelled because of my anti-war position in my country and I lost my performance and my work, and now I've lost my contracts because all of these brands left Russia".
Before her music career began, Manizha wanted to do something to help people. "In my life, I had so many troubles like domestic violence, like the war in Tajikistan, and because of it, we moved to Russia".
"When I was a little girl, I remember this war in Tajikistan. I remember how my mom was running away from the bullets, the sound of war, and the smell. Everything".
"And I remember how people were in the middle of a war, but they were so helpful. They are happy with the small things-to eat, to drink water".
"When I started to create music I was passionate to inspire people that they are not alone and that I can help them. We can be together. You will survive. I believe in you".
"And that's why when I was working a lot, I was thinking that someday, somehow I will open a foundation that will help people, that will protect people, refugees and especially women and children".
When all her performances were cancelled, Manizha feared she would not be able to raise money for the foundation, so they created the Uncancelled tour".
"We needed to raise money and to show people a different side of my country. I need to inspire people to not fight, but to stop these kinds of wars all over the world".
"I love my country and I loved my country before. It is my second homeland. I met here a lot of good people and I know they're fighting for peace".
"And if you will come to our performance, you will feel a lot of love. People are crying during our performances, even if they don't know my language".
"I'm singing in Russian and English and then Tajik and people are crying and hugging each other, even if they don't know each other".
"I think we are doing a great thing. It's hard, but we continue to fight back against everything that's happening right now".
Manizha has been waiting a long time to finally go on tour: "When I had my birthday in July, it was my dream to do a big show. But because of Covid in 2020, we moved our dates. And when 2022 came, I was like, "Yeah, everything will be all right" and in the summer, I will have my tour".
"But after March, because of my words, everything was cancelled. And my performance on my birthday in July was cancelled also".
"But we didn't give up. My mom (and manager) stood up and said, you know, nobody can cancel you because you're a musician. And it's impossible to cancel music".
"I'll be honest with you," says Manizha, "I cried, I cried because I was scared. I didn't know what to do. And my mom was like shaking me and said, Everything will be all right. Come on, let's do this".
The idea for the 'Uncancelled Tour' came about after a successful online show that raised money for the foundation.
While it took some time for Manizha to feel safe to go ahead with the tour, the challenges have continued:
"It was impossible sometimes because every day when you're reading news, you're like, Oh my God, these crazy things are happening every single day. After the Turkey and Syria earthquake, I cried.
I needed to cancel my show in Istanbul. But we decided that we will not cancel our show in March. We will do our show and all of the money we raise will go to foundations that work with people who survived the earthquake".
"I don't think it's the right thing to stop working and to stop singing. Somebody will say that it's not right that I'm singing right now and performing".
"They're still telling me this, a lot of people. But I think if it stops, it will be like the silent war will win".
"We are fighting on the bright side. We are fighting with love and humanity as weapons".
"So, yes, sometimes it sounds a little bit like a Marvel movie, but yes, it is. We have to continue".
"I will have performances in Cyprus, and Israel in March and more in May. We will be performing in Germany, in Hungary, There are so many places where we need to go. I'm excited because we have plans for autumn 2023 and spring 2024 also".
For Manizha, the tour, and performing, have become her mission: " I have to do this even if I don't want it, even if I'm tired, even if sometimes I don't believe that something is going to change. But I'm still standing and doing this".
Some of the shows have already gone ahead, in Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and, of course, Tajikistan.
"It's my homeland, and it was my first performance there. Every show was special, but especially in Tajikistan, I was emotional about it".
"I didn't think about it before, but in the few minutes before going on stage, I was like, "Oh my God, I cannot do this". I mean, all of the memories; war, my grandmother, I loved her so much, and she always wanted to see me on a big stage. Unfortunately, she died and she didn't get to see me, but when the gig was done I cried because I wanted to see her in that audience".
"After the performance, I had so many flowers and I brought them to my grandmother's grave and I said, you see these flowers? They are yours because you always believed in me".
"You said when I was a little girl that someday I will go on Eurovision Song Contest because she loved that show".
Manizha has also been working on a new album, which she says will be "very international".
"This album will be, of course, about my feelings on everything that's happening right now between my country and Ukraine, and what's happening right now in the world".
"It's impossible to ignore these things in your art because I feel like a sponge".
"In one of my songs, I'm asking who created guns and how many of us passed away because of them. At first they were created to protect ourselves, but then they started to be used to kill somebody".
"Also, I have a song again about women and discrimination. And this song is about how to stay alive when you are silent. How to stay alive and not lose yourself".
"It's hard to be a human right now or just a normal human being".
Despite fears about how these songs may be received, Manizha insists she cannot be protected. "I saw how everything changed and I can rely only on myself or only on my family".
"And of course, sometimes I'm scared still. But this feeling is it's like a part of my life and I have to get used to it."
"Also my main passion and mission is my foundation because right now in Russia there are so many Ukrainian refugees".
"They are here not because of their political views. They are here because of language because they can't assimilate themselves in different countries and they don't have any choices. They have to be here".
"They cannot come back to their home, but they have to find work to feed their children".
"So that's my main passion right now to do everything and anything to help my foundation and to not be cancelled".
Because even now I know that because of me as a person, somebody could cancel my foundation. But I know that we need to be here to help refugees".