Ukrainian Mayor Apologizes After Calling for Roma Expulsion
23 April, 2020

Ruslan Martsinkiv, a member of the right-wing Svoboda party and the mayor of Ivano-Frankivsk, a city in western Ukraine, apologized for his discriminatory statements with regard to the Roma people, and explained why he demanded their expulsion to the Transcarpathian region – where they are registered residents.

“First, I talked about specific Roma people. Regardless of nationality (ethnicity – ed.), everyone should be quarantined. A number of Roma people in Ivano-Frankivsk were violating the quarantine: they lived in our public square, harassed people, and demanded funds, they did not keep their distance and did not have any masks. There have been a number of appeals to the police, to the hotline of the Executive Committee of the City Council. And when such work was carried out, the people registered in the Svalyava and Irshava districts of Transcarpathia expressed their desire to get help to go home because there is no public transport,” said Martsinkiv during a hromadske broadcast.

Some of the people who violated the quarantine went home via the transport provided by the authorities, he stated.

Martsinkiv also said that the authorities “asked that people who had no place to live be in a special center on Mlynarska Street, where people can stay, sleep, there are doctors, there is food, we are conducting rapid coronavirus testing of the people who have no place of residence”.

"Perhaps I said it somewhat emotionally because the meeting was dedicated to overcoming the coronavirus and we had 6 deaths over the weekend, which is a lot. But I think that if we all – Ukrainians, Americans, Poles, representatives of other nations – adhere to quarantine now, one cannot violate the quarantine being a representative of another nationality (ethnicity – ed.). Therefore, it was about specific individuals – about 20 Roma who are not residents of Ivano-Frankivsk and who were systematically violating the quarantine. But I did not hold back my emotions, so I apologize, I did not mean the whole nation (ethnic group – ed.),” insisted Martsinkiv.

At the same time, he claims that he did not give any official instructions to expel or fine the violators because he does not have such powers, meaning that his address on April 22 was only advisory.

According to Martsinkiv, around 1,000 Roma, officially registered with the city, live in Ivano-Frankivsk.

“There are no problems with them,” said the mayor, asserting that he did not discriminate against the Roma, and he that he had actually received a request from police for removal of violators from the city.

Martsinkiv’s statements during a weekly operations meeting on April 22 had signs of hate speech and could provoke ethnic hatred against the Roma national ethnic group. The Coalition of Roma NGOs in Ukraine, which advocates for the protection of the rights of the Roma minority in Ukraine, addressed Ivano-Frankivsk authorities  by requesting an assessment of the mayor’s actions.

After that, the police opened a criminal case under Art. 161 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine – violation of equality of citizens depending on their race, nationality, religious beliefs, disability and other grounds.

Roma human rights activist Julian Kondur noted that Martsinkiv’s apology does not cancel responsibility for the statements, according to  human rights center ZMINA

And while Martsinkiv refers to the government's decree on the quarantine violations, the sanctions it provides is a fine, not a deportation, Kondur added. 

“Martsinkiv is saying that this is how they and the police helped the Roma to get home. But honestly, I have doubts that the Roma have really asked for it. Instead, I’m curious what the local authorities have done to help them in accordance with their rights. Obviously, if the Roma live on the streets, they are poor. It is interesting how the authorities interacted with them, whether the human rights defenders were involved, what social assistance they provided or offered,” said Kondur.