Russian invasion disrupted Ukraine’s nascent Roma aid system

The situation of the Roma people in Ukraine can be described as extremely difficult, and the war greatly exacerbated the problems that existed in peacetime. Conditions in many Roma settlements are unacceptable, and Roma face discrimination during the distribution of humanitarian aid.

Members of the European delegation have come to such conclusions after visiting Kyiv, Lviv and Uzhgorod in July and meeting with Roma organizations and representatives of the government of Ukraine. The delegation included Mehmet Daimagüler, Commissioner for Combating Antiziganism in Germany, Daniel Strauss, co-chair of the Federal Association of Sinti and Roma, and Romeo Franz, a member of the European Parliament.

“What we saw there shocked and disturbed us all,” said Romeo Franz in an interview with Romea.cz. “One gets the impression that a significant part of Ukrainian society is hostile to the Roma. They not only do not pay any attention to their catastrophic situation but also quite clearly and openly … call the Roma second-class people.”

The delegation visited a camp in the forest near Lviv and was shocked by the terrible conditions in which about 1,400 Roma found themselves, most of them children or youth. “I saw with my own eyes how things are in Ukraine – this is a state of emergency. This is especially true for the Roma living in the forest without water, electricity, normal housing, health care, sufficient infrastructure. I could not believe that the Roma live in such conditions in Europe, and I have seen a lot. This problem requires an urgent solution,” said Romeo Franz. He praised the work of human rights defenders and NGOs that promote the discussions of the rights of Roma communities in Ukraine on the political agenda. At the same time, Franz noted that most of the obligations to support the Roma are, in fact, not being fulfilled on the part of the state: “It is not easy for anyone who wants to investigate the situation of the Roma in Ukraine to get sufficient information. There are no reliable state statistics on this issue, there is neither an effective competent authority nor project work on the part of the state.”

According to Alla Yurchenko, an activist from the Roma community, the war interrupted the provision of assistance to needy Roma families: “After years of advocacy work by all Roma rights defenders in Ukraine, the government has paid attention to such camps and is ready to work on this direction together with [the] Roma community and NGOs. But the process was stopped by the war”. She noted that assistance to Roma refugees, IDPs and undocumented people, who are often deprived of access to state support programs, is situationally provided by NGOs with the help of charitable foundations. Alla Yurchenko is convinced that Ukraine will return to the strategic plans for helping the Roma population and their implementation.

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