Future of Roma identity in Ukraine
In summer David arrived with his Roma community to Lviv looking for seasonal work. They set their camp in the suburbs and started to sort garbage and gather metal. David earned money by digging people’s gardens. On the 23rd of June David was knifed 23 times for death. It happened during another attack on the Roma’s camp.
There are almost no attacks today. No one sees the Roma’s settlements either. People who help Roma are afraid even to talk about the current whereabouts of these camps.
‘There were cases when I firstly brought some engaged people to Roma’s settlements, and a few days later someone burned these camps. They all are afraid not only to go out but even to speak’, representative of the Committee for the Protection of Human Rights Mykhaylo Kenyo says.
These Roma lead a nomadic way of life. They try to earn money in one region and then move on to another. But the level of discrimination against them is increasing. Only during this year the police received six reports on attack on the Roma settlements: three - in Kyiv, two – in Lviv region, one - in Ternopil. The last one, in Lviv, had fatal consequences – attackers injured some and killed one Roma. According to data of NGO “Roma of Ukraine Ternipe” there were three incidents during 2017 and six during 2018.
According to the Institute of Demography and Sociological Research Roma people are the least integrated ones from all national minorities into Ukrainian society. Due to data from Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and Interethnic Relations between 200 and 400 000 Roma people live in Ukraine. About 40% of them do not have documents. Only 38% of this ethnic minority have a job. Less than 30% of Roma children receive certificates of full general secondary education.
Low level of integration and high level of unemployment are the reasons for the increased level of crime among representatives of the ethnos. Equally important and urgent problems are low living standards, loss of native language and legal insecurity.
Nastya is also a Romani woman. She came to Lviv from Zakarpattya, this is a part of southwestern Ukraine. There she lives in a large Romani village, where the community settled several generations ago. They all live in small houses with nearly 11 children in each family.
Currently Nastya walks down the Lviv streets with her child and asks for alms while her husband moonlights here for seasonal work. Now he collects potatoes.
'We have no work in the village. We live poorly. Therefore, we should go to work to different regions in Ukraine. Unfortunately, that is not always a good idea. The employers often cheat, do not give our men a salary. Moreover, our women cannot work, we have so many children', Nastya says.
The activist and the head of NGO “Romano Drom” Maryna Kazanska helps to find a job for Roma. She stresses that the employment service is only formally performing its duties.
‘They assign them to the work. But before they call and ask if employers will accept “gypsies”. These jobs, of course, do not require special education, but do not befit them. For example, women are sent to сarry metal. Employers laugh because women physically cannot pick it up. After that workers in jobcenter tick the box that the person does not answer any requirements’, Maryna Kazanska says.
Employers do not want to take Roma people to work because of some reasons. One of the main – strong stereotypes that Roma always cheat and steal something. And partially it’s true.
There is a different group in Roma society who is not similar to the rest people. Even Roma do not call them Roma. They call them “gypsies”. They are people whose craft is stealing.
'We know about them and try not to interact with these people. Firstly, they besmirch our reputation and secondly, they also steal our stuff', Nastya says.
Local Lviv activists even chase them.
'The reason for this movement was a sharp increase in the impudence of the Roma in Lviv. There were complaints among my friends about the robbery constantly. Once I warned robbers - they hit me, threatened to cut my face. After that, I decided to create a group on Facebook that could help prevent crime. At first, I thought that this group would consist only of my friends, then this group grew and found supporters', the creator of the movement “Lovtsi” Roksolana Lisovska says.
From time to time they go to the places where groups of robbers usually “work” and try to prevent the incidents. Sometimes they call the police – when they have evidence that the robbery occurred.
The second problem of Roma integration and socialization belongs to the lack of government support. The Ministry of Internal Affairs recently announced the start of the group which has to protect and encourage the integration of Roma people in Ukrainian society.
'The strategy was not financially supported at the central level since its launching in 2013. It is a third year we are submitting proposals from the ministry to the budget committee to get at least minimal funds for the implementation of this strategy', the director of the Department for Affairs religion and nationalities of the Ministry of Culture Andrei Yurash says.
The third question of integration is about culture.
Janush Panchenko family led a nomadic way of life till 1976, when the low forbade nomadism on Soviet Union land territory.
'This was the way to earn money. My family was engaged in blacksmithing, weaving baskets, fortune-telling. They stopped in a city. When the local market and consumers were saturated with this product, they moved on', Janush Panchenko says.
According to Janush it was a painful process, because of compulsorism. People could be imprisoned for 5 years. But there were such Roma who, despite the ban, continued to lead such a way of life.
After Janush family settled on, the way of earning did not change a lot, they also were engaged in blacksmithing. They sold some stuff and bought a house. Several families lived in it. In time they began to earn, and each family began to separate.
It was a process of integration, but Romani culture started to suffer. As Janush says, many of Roma do not know own language now.
‘Now we are trying to conduct some trainings to improve writing and reading skills, because there are some Roma people, who do not even speak the language at all, some of them can, but do not read’, Janush Panchenko says.
Current strategy and local initiatives do not benefit Roma integration with saving their own culture. And Janush thinks that it is a big danger for his nation: