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Roma soldier in Uzhhorod, Ukraine. (c) Dmytro Myntyan

Roma soldier in Uzhhorod, Ukraine. (c) Dmytro Myntyan

Report: Fighting for a Fairer Future

April 2024 -3 minutes read

The impact of the war in Ukraine on Roma and lessons for post-war reconstruction efforts.

After more than two years of war, Ukraine’s leadership is struggling to maintain support from key allies and to keep the attention of a global public distracted by other crises, such as the Israel-Palestine war, and by elections that could reshape global power dynamics. This might not seem the right time, therefore, to talk about Roma in Ukraine. 


However, it is important to remember that Ukraine and its allies are fighting for shared values, such as freedom, equality, justice and inclusion, that extend beyond the country’s borders. These values are only successfully embedded in a society if they express themselves in the treatment of its most vulnerable citizens. Examples show that too often the most vulnerable groups are overlooked: a recent public poll on the discrimination of different social groups in the Ukrainian armed forces did not include Roma.


This brief, therefore, should be seen as a contribution to a vision of post-war Ukraine grounded in the values that Ukraine and its allies are defending—and an attempt to ensure these values are truly inclusive. 


War usually exacerbates existing vulnerabilities and disparities, and this brief shows that the war in Ukraine is no different. Whilst the political focus has largely been on the war between Ukrainians and Russians, reconstruction efforts should focus on social cohesion and avoid neglecting smaller dispossessed minorities like the Roma, a mistake made in the recent conflicts in the Balkans.


The lesson learned from the situation of Roma during the Kosovo conflict is particularly important. Before that war, the Roma population in Kosovo was estimated at between 100,000 and 150,000; following the conflict, less than 20,000 remain. The vicious uprooting of Roma by a war they had no role in causing has largely been invisible and ignored. 


The situation of Roma from Kosovo continues to be overlooked, and the key players relevant for the future of Kosovo deal exclusively with the interests of the ethnic Albanians and Serbs. For example, even in cases of grave violations of human rights, such as lead poisoning in contaminated refugee camps Roma were forced to shelter in, they have not seen justice, despite winning a decade-long legal battle. To help avoid a similar scenario for Roma from Ukraine, this report focuses on the experiences of those on the margins of public attention and political decisions.


With this context in mind, the research behind the report focuses on the experiences of Roma during the current war. Based on a qualitative study conducted between December 2022 and April 2023 that involved a total of 143 Roma participants, it sheds light on the contributions, challenges and aspirations of the Roma. 


Three goals are key for this briefing. The first is to give visibility to the contributions by Roma to Ukraine’s defence. The second is to showcase the impact of the war on existing challenges facing Roma, with a view toward potential short-term remedies. The third goal is to contribute valuable insights to discussions about rebuilding and reconstruction to ensure that planners take the needs of the most excluded and dispossessed into account. Recovery and reconstruction provide an opportunity to address entrenched, systematic issues. 


Ultimately, this report aims to ensure that the valuable contributions of Roma communities are recognised and acknowledged in post-war reconstruction, and that the exclusion and neglect of Roma is addressed as part of efforts to build an inclusive and equitable society for all citizens of Ukraine. Improving the situation of Roma might be one of the strongest rebuttals to Vladimir Putin’s narrative about “denazification” as a reason for the war. Fair treatment of Roma would help refute Russian claims that Ukraine’s “Nazi” government disregards minority rights.


Author(s)

Neda Korunovska

Vice President for Analytics and Results

Yulian Kondur

Yulian Kondur

Coordinator, International Roma Women Fund Chiricli

Zeljko Jovanovic

President

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