UARU
Procession and Politics: Inside the Funeral of Murdered Roma Man
30 June, 2018

How the burial of David Popp turned into a political rally for the Roma.

SERNE, Ukraine – The Spring of 2018 brought sorrow to the Roma community of Serne in Zakarpattia region. The burial of David Popp, murdered during an attack on a Roma camp on the outskirts of Lviv, has served as a bitter reminder of the vulnerability and ongoing threats faced by the community who feel outcast in their own country.

Photo credit: Igor Burdyga/HROMADSKE

Photo credit: Igor Burdyga/HROMADSKE

It is difficult to get many comments from the villagers on the death of Popp, but this is only due to the fact that 90% of the locals speak only Hungarian, the other 10% refer to themselves as Gypsies. In reality, Popp’s death has attracted the whole of the community to the mourning process over the course of three days.

Photo credit: Igor Burdyga/HROMADSKE

Photo credit: Igor Burdyga/HROMADSKE

“Nem tudom (“I don’t know” in Hungarian – ed.), I don’t speak Russian,” says Gaina, David’s mother, only momentarily distracted from the fuss of the mourning process, and shortly thereafter returning to her tears. 

READ MORE: Searching For Answers After Western Ukraine Roma Camp Attack (VIDEO)

Five days prior, David Popp had been stabbed to death during an attack on his camp by teenagers belonging to a group called “Sober and Angry Youth,” known for its ultra right-wing politics and neo-Nazi leanings.

Photo credit: Igor Burdyga/HROMADSKE

Photo credit: Igor Burdyga/HROMADSKE

Gaina’s small hut of one and a half rooms is covered in wreaths, from the floor almost up to the roof. Popp’s uncle Andrii – who had been dressed in a white shirt, which by then was almost blackened by the dirt on the roads – was the one to have returned his nephew’s body to Serne just three days prior.

“He was my light, though not my son,” he stated, looking over at his relatives and neighbors.

Photo credit: Igor Burdyga/HROMADSKE

“They say that I will start talking about politics again. And where is the politics? How did they kill our boy for being a Gypsy? Is that not political?”

Photo credit: Igor Burdyga/HROMADSKE

Photo credit: Igor Burdyga/HROMADSKE

Miroslav Horvat, nicknamed Miro, is one of Ukraine’s Roma politicians, and a deputy of the Uzhhorod City Council. He was key to the funeral and saved his presence for the last moments of the procession where David’s casket was taken out of the home and transferred to the cemetery.

Photo credit: Igor Burdyga/HROMADSKE

After Bible readings in Hungarian from pastors in the Roma community, Horvat delivered his speech.

READ MORE: One Dead, Four Injured in Roma Camp Attack in Ukraine

“Why? Why do we, Roma, have to suffer so much and live in such fear in Ukraine? We’re not going to leave, this is our country too, and we love this country! Why do you behave this way? Is it going to go on like this? Are we going to have to bury the next ones? No! We don’t want to, because we are a peaceful people!”

Photo credit: Igor Burdyga/HROMADSKE

Photo credit: Igor Burdyga/HROMADSKE

Two horses pulled the casket towards the grave. Behind them was a procession of Roma dressed in black and singing funeral songs. Pastor Ivan Balog from Mukachevo translated:

Our God in Heaven

He is our Savior

He cleanses us with His Blood

He gave His life for us

Thank you, Jesus

Through the suffocating heat, a short tropical rain broke out twice. Hungarian villagers watched the procession from their courtyards.

Pastor Balog delivered a homily on the passing of David, offering a message of hope and encouragement. However, he also maintained that his death was the result of severe moral imbalances, and questioned the state of Roma in Ukraine.

Photo credit: Igor Burdyga/HROMADSKE

Photo credit: Igor Burdyga/HROMADSKE

“We, Roma, were expelled from Kyiv for trying to work honestly,” he yelled angrily. “Why do we live this way in Ukraine? Why is there no city for us here, no work?”

Everyone spoke of God’s judgment so much that it seemed that there is virtually no hope nor trust for the Ukrainian courts to deliver justice.

Photo credit: Igor Burdyga/HROMADSKE

The grave was covered in wreaths. Representatives of the community were photographed near the grave and then set off among the Roma of Zakarpattia.

“He loved life, he could always find joy in small things,” Andrii said upon returning from the cemetery.

READ MORE: Another Brutal Attack on a Roma Settlement in Ukraine

For the past several years, David lived with his civil partner, Izboya Rac, in a nearby village. He went to Lviv with her and her family to collect garbage and scrap metal. A few days later, they were attacked.

Photo credit: Igor Burdyga/HROMADSKE

The Rac family was deeply offended by the fact that the Lviv civil authorities provided Izboya and her injured brother with medical assistance, but left David’s body to be taken back by his family at their own expense.

READ MORE: Fire and Fury: Another Roma Settlement Destroyed in Ukraine

Neither Izboya nor her brother Raj were present at the funeral. Raj was held by police after his discharge from the Lviv hospital as he was a witness to the events. The location of Izboya is currently unknown.  

Photo credit: Igor Burdyga/HROMADSKE

Andrii states that they would not have been allowed to attend the funeral proceedings either way. “Everything is about money, about earnings. They ran to the gadzho (Roma term for a non-Roma individual – ed.) for money, and what did they return with? What could you get from a gadzho?”

As we enter the courtyard, Andrii’s relatives once again implore him to stop discussing politics.  

/By Igor Burdyga

/Translated by Vladyslav Yakovlev