Ukraine: Roma camp set ablaze, residents forced to leave

During the night of 5 April, the Roma camp at 2 Kanalna Street in Kyiv was ablaze. Strangely, a similar incident occurred just before the Euro 2012 football championship, and this time it happened on the eve of the Eurovision Song Contest.

It is unknown who was responsible for the fire, which affected a densely populated area of about 180 people. This crime was not investigated because, fortunately, no one was injured as shortly before most of the population had left for their homes in Transcarpathia. The local authorities, along with the police and residents, breathed a sigh of relief when they became aware that their “troubled neighbours”, who could not be legally evicted, had left their homes on the river bank in the area near the industrial zone.

The main question raised is whether the Roma had voluntarily left the camp before it was set ablaze. If we take into consideration the events that unfolded at the camp over the last month, then the answer is that they were forced to leave. They were intimidated, put under pressure and then left to the mercy of fate. This was the easiest way to solve the problems related to the Roma camp.

A month ago, on the site of Kyiv City Administration, a petition with the request to evict all Roma from the territory of the camp was registered. It gained popularity quickly among the citizens living in the district of Berezniaki and in a short time it received more than 4000 signatures. The main points of the petition were: the Roma have misappropriated the land near the river, they constantly steal the property of other citizens, they live an asocial life and force their children to go begging which brings fear to the whole district. Furthermore there was a deputy’s appeal with the same propositions. Taking this into consideration, the State Administration of Darnytsia district organized the round table on which the representatives of the authorities, of the community and of the NGO “Chirikly” discussed the issues related to the Roma settlement and solutions to the problem in order to respond to the growing social tension.

Rights advocates and representatives of “Chirikly” stressed that the decision to evict the Roma is anti-constitutional and infringes their human rights. They have suggested special conditions for the Roma community by allocating land supplied by the water and energy companies where residences would be regulated by certain rules (like sanitary conditions, garbage collection and control of school attendance etc.)

The representatives of the authorities and of the other government bodies have shown skepticism and have said that the main problem is the big quantity of garbage that remains uncollected and causes problems for the local residents. The police representative who attended the meeting commented that the increase in crime rates in the district can be attributed to a seasonal phenomenon which is unrelated to the Roma settlement. There was in fact only one complaint lodged against a Roma from the camp over the previous month.

A year ago the NGO “Chirikly” found a container (it was founded for free by the collecting garbage company) for garbage and paid for the garbage collection because the responsible bodies had given up on performing their duties. On 24 March during our visit with our Roma mediator to this camp, we saw at the entry a big pile of garbage packed into special bags by Roma and left near the garbage container to be collected. The following week, on 30 March, the deputy of Kyiv city Council, Andriy Strannikov, commented on the Roma camp issue and wrote a post on Facebook saying that not everything should be discussed publicly as the issue would be undermined. He suggested, ‘to transfer the discussion in real space because not everything can be discussed here.’ The next day at 5am, the representatives of the National Police wearing face masks raided the camp, threatening Roma residents and telling them to leave.

This raid became the start of a plan to evict the Roma, bringing fear and distrust to a people who have almost no contact with the world outside their own community and are a marginalized group in society. Later the same day, the renowned Roma singer, Petro Chornyy, visited the camp. He called for all the people to leave the camp as soon as possible because, according to his information, there was a risk of a planned attack by people who wanted bloodshed. His warnings caused many Roma to leave immediately for the railway station, but a family stayed and then left the next day when Petro arrived with the leader and political actor Volodymyr Netrebenko who also claimed to have information on the threats of aggressively disposed people who would attack if the Roma refused to leave. He proposed to buy tickets for the Roma to leave to Transcarpathia at his own expense. So most of camp residents have left and only some families stayed because they had no other place to go. On the evening of 6 Aprilh the camp was burned down. The next day a bulldozer was sent to level the ground.

This camp in Berezniaky district existed for more than 7 years. During the summer the Roma come from Transcarpathia because there are no jobs and the living conditions are harsh. Many Roma choose to beg due to their disadvantaged position in society which leaves them limited choices to earn a living. Most Roma are illiterate, and do not speak Ukrainian or Russian. However, the Roma from this camp were working in different places where no specific qualifications and knowledge were required, such as in manual labour. For example, some Roma were driven to landfill sites to work, some of them were collecting scrap metal and other waste for recycling. I saw with my own eyes how a few kilometers from the camp, old women and men were carrying enormous bags on their backs filled with waste to be sold. Blaming the Roma from this camp for stealing is the stereotypical thinking of our society.

The children from this camp don’t attend school. Many of their parents prioritize housekeeping and contributing to the family income above education, and who can blame them given the circumstances? There is a big gulf between the mindset of the Roma and the rest of Ukrainian society and a lot of time and resources are needed to overcome this gap. Addressing social exclusion is a long process which will take multiple generations but it is in Ukrainian society’s interests to integrate these people, otherwise the problems existing in our society will continue to pile up.

While the camp was intact, the foundation "Chirikly" Roma mediator, together with a social worker of Darnystia district were coming almost every week and helped Roma obtain passports, bought the necessary medicines which Roma could not afford, provided consultations, assisted in solving different issues and resolved the problem of the mounting garbage, as well as other issues.

While the camp was intact, foundation “Chirikly” Roma mediators were coming almost every week and helped Roma obtain passports, entered children in school, bought the necessary medicines which Roma couldn’t afford and resolved the problem of the mounting garbage. Amongst other issues.

Zola Kondur, the vice-president of the foundation, says, ‘When the people understood that they couldn’t evict Roma because it was illegal, they decided to use illegal ways of intimidation and set fire to the Roma residences. This exemplifies the power of the majority over the minority. Before they could call emergency services, and ambulances would come, but now they can’t even do that. No one knows where they’ve gone.’

“Youth for Sport”, another organization which was working with this settlement for more than four years, were helping provide food and clothing, but their main activity was to educate children. According to their representative, Olga Makar, the parents viewed this initiative positively and confidently left their children with them. The children themselves liked being schooled and communicating with teachers. They were studying with pleasure, learning how to write and read and after the lessons they always asked to stay longer. Another organization, known as “Community of Saint Egidio” organized the summer camps for both Roma and Ukrainian children and contributed to improving tolerance and understanding among the children from different cultures.

Foundation “Chirikly” has the following recommendations for the peaceful and just resolution of this situation:

  • Ultimately an investigation into the events and actions that led to the eviction and subsequent fire must be undertaken. The investigation has to be conducted at the city level by the National Police office in Kyiv. On a national level, the Ombudsman’s office has requested an investigation.
  • The Kyiv city administration should ensure the immediate return of Roma evictees as well as the adequate provision of housing and monitoring of destroyed property.
  • In the long-term reconciliation between any returning Roma residents and the local community should be supported with a local integration plan developed by the Kyiv city administration.
  • Dialogue between the Kyiv city administration and the Transcarpathia regional administration should be developed to ensure cooperation in terms of the welfare of evictees.
  • The government needs to make a clear statement regarding the illegality of petitions and other forms of public consultation that identify and stigmatise a particular ethnic group. This needs to be communicated to those public officials who have facilitated such petitions and consultations.

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Date: 26/04/2017




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Name: Roma Zimenko

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