An interview with a Roma human rights activist from the Kherson region about 3 months of life under the Russian occupation has been recently published by analytical media project RomaUa.
In an interview, David (name changed) says that they expected an escalation of the conflict from Russia and were preparing to leave the region in case of danger: they packed their things, poured a full tank of gasoline. After the start of the war, due to information about explosions throughout Ukraine, they did not understand where it was safe, where to go and decided to hide in their house with their relatives:
“In the first days, many shots and explosions could be heard nearby. We spent most of the time in the bomb shelter. In a word, it was terrible. The constant feeling of stress from planes flying over the house… This is a terrible feeling that you are powerless in front of what is happening.”
After some time, David began to help the Roma population with the support of the local Ukrainian authorities: “Since the volume of humanitarian assistance was quite limited, I traveled to different parts of our city and asked the local Roma people which families were the most in need. The priority was to provide assistance to the elderly, but I delivered assistance to everyone, including the non-Roma population. Sometimes we exchanged food and goods, because there was a big shortage in the city and many goods were simply not available. Such mutual assistance was spread among the Roma during wartime.”
David says that before the war, the Roma community consisted of roughly half of the Crimean and Sirvitsky groups, but most of the Sirvitsky Roma left, and the city looks devastated:
“…The war and the occupation of Kherson hit especially hard the most vulnerable sections of the Roma population. For example, in one of the Roma communities before the war, the main way to earn money was to work in the fields. They harvested, peeled onions, and so on. For a day of work, they could earn about 400-500 hryvnia, which was enough for them for several days. And then they had to go back to the field. Now these people are left without any income. Many Roma come to our and neighboring cities – basically, these are people from territories where active hostilities took place. They lost their homes and all their property. I am aware of cases of looting of Roma houses by Russian soldiers in neighboring villages. They took out all the valuable things they found: carpets, appliances, and so on. And in one yard they even removed the gate. It’s hard for me to imagine why they needed them, perhaps to create some fortifications. Mostly they robbed abandoned houses, but also those where the inhabitants remained. Cars were often taken away from them. One of the local Roma even said that he had prepared for this, and that “Kadyrovtsy” could not take his car, because he had disabled it in advance and it simply would not start. But most are far less fortunate. The same man told me that many simply fled their villages on foot to save their lives.”
To the [Russian] accusation of Ukraine of Nazism, David replies that problems with violence by radical groups cannot be hushed up and law enforcement agencies should investigate such cases. But a similar problem exists both in European countries and in Russia itself — killings of Roma by skinheads, violence on the part of law enforcement agencies (for example, in the Roma settlement of Plekhanovo in the Tula Region), unhindered broadcasting of xenophobic films about Roma on Russian federal channels.
Because of the news about the enforced disappearances of journalists, activists, deputies, neighbors, David does not feel safe:
“… I have learned to appreciate what I have. For example, I used to be able to go to my brothers and return home at midnight. Then it was not something special. Now the curfew starts at six, and there is nowhere to go, because most of my family members have left.”