Over the past few months, Ukraine’s Roma community has been the target of numerous attacks up and down the country. Roma people have lost their homes, possessions, and been beaten in a string of at least seven reported incidents.
The two latest attacks have even proved fatal. On June 23, a 24-year-old Roma man died from stab wounds after teenage members of a far-right organization attacked a Roma camp outside Lviv. Three other people, including a 10-year-old boy, were also injured in this particularly violent incident.
Most of the perpetrators of the Lviv attack, led by a 20-year-old man, were minors belonging to a group called Sober and Angry Youth, known for its ultra right-wing politics and neo-Nazi leanings.
Then, on July 2, a Roma woman was found dead with her throat slashed in the town of Berehove in the Zakarpattia region of western Ukraine.
A number of the attacks have been linked to some of Ukraine’s increasingly notorious far-right movements, in particular, the ultranationalist organization C14, and National Druzhyna movement, formed by veterans of the far-right Azov battalion. In some cases, these organizations have boasted about and broadcast the attacks on their social media pages.
This was the case in the fourth reported attack – on a camp in the Holosiyiv National Nature Park in Kyiv on June 7. This encampment had been home to a Roma community for at least 15 years.
Members of National Druzhyna arrived at the Holosiyiv camp wielding hammers and hurling insults at Roma men, women, and children. The radicals destroyed the tents and shelters, before forcing the inhabitants to flee to the nearby train station, where they spent a week begging for train tickets back to their native Zakarpattia.
In the days after the attack, Hromadske went to Holosiyiv to find out what was left of the camp, how the former residents are shaping up and whether or not they received any support.
Ukrainian law enforcement have faced criticism for the way in which they have dealt with these attacks. With the exception of the Lviv attack, for which two teenagers have been detained and an additional six people are awaiting a court ruling, the perpetrators of the attacks have not been brought to justice.
Speaking in the Hromadske studio, First Deputy of the Patrol Police Department Oleksiy Biloshytskiy assured Hromadske that “practically all the suspects” in the Lviv case have been arrested.
However, human rights activist and representative of the Roma Coalition Zola Kondur described the Lviv attack as “the point of no return.”
“Unfortunately, the police were unable to effectively protect the Roma settlements and the people living in them,” Kondur told Hromadske.
Kondur believes that the issue of impunity related to the attacks stems from long-existing negative stereotypes and stigma attached to the Roma population in Ukraine. This is something her organization is hoping to eradicate with training and awareness-raising sessions aimed at public sector workers.
“For every group [in Ukrainian society] we will always have stigmas and stereotypes and very negative experience with the Roma people,” Kondur noted, adding that “police officers are also human, and they have different experiences and stereotypes regarding different people, Roma or not Roma.”
Biloshytskiy, however, reiterated the need for impartiality when dealing with cases of potential hate crimes such as those against the Roma community.
“It doesn't matter who has what personal opinion inside. But, as a police officer, they will all serve their society and people, and if they won't do so, they will be punished according to the disciplinary legislation,” he told Hromadske.
/By Sofia Fedeczko