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Viktor Ilchak, Roma Soldier in Ukraine

Photo: Dmytro Myntyan

"When I heard on TV that Roma were not fighting for Ukraine, I wanted to show that this is not true"

May 2024 -4 minutes read

Viktor Ilchak doesn't consider himself a hero, but he is proud to be a Roma soldier fighting for Ukraine.

Viktor Ilchak received an awarded for bravery in the fight to defend Ukraine from Russian aggression. This interview with him accompanies our Fighting for a Fairer Future report, which highlights the contributions made by Roma to Ukraine's defence, examines the war's impact on Roma communities, and offers ideas for inclusive post-war reconstruction.

What is the most difficult challenge you have faced in your life and how did you cope with it? 

The first challenge was the hard life of a person of Roma nationality. I grew up in poverty. The second challenge was the war. I have been a soldier since 2015, since the first occupation of Ukrainian territory, and since the beginning of the full-scale war. I have been serving in the Armed Forces. During all this time, I have had four wounds. 

Who or what inspired you to continue in difficult times? 

Once I heard on TV that Roma are not fighting for Ukraine. I wanted to show by my own example that this is not true. Besides, I know how much my wife, my children and all my relatives are worried about me. Once I was offline for about two weeks and I remember how worried they all were about me. This gives me the strength to keep going.  

Can you share a moment when you wanted to give up, but didn't, and what motivated you to continue? 

I have military friends, brothers-in-arms. I just could not give up. We fought together and supported each other in our 128th Mountain Assault Brigade. Even now I support them and send them everything they need. Unfortunately, many of them have already died.  

How do you stay positive when faced with difficulties? 

I have a positive nature in life. I think that is why it is easier for me to cope with difficulties.  

What advice would you give to someone who is going through a difficult time? 

I don't know what advice to give when there is a war going on. It's hard for everyone now. I would only wish everyone health and a speedy end to the war.  

How has overcoming difficulties changed your outlook on life? 

I constantly face difficulties. The Roma community doesn’t have the best conditions for development. It is difficult to find a job and settle down in life. Still, however, I do not plan to stay in Switzerland, where I am now with my family. I plan to return home. It so happened that my wife and children hardly saw me: first the fighting that started in 2014, then the full-scale Russian invasion. Now, I want to spend time with them. If necessary, however, I am ready to defend Ukraine again. 

What lessons did you learn from the difficulties you faced? 

It's hard to talk about lessons. It was very hard. If I hadn't been shell-shocked and wounded, I would have continued to fight. 

How do you think your experience can help others facing similar difficulties? 

We need to help each other, our comrades-in-arms, support each other, and it will be easier to overcome difficulties. 

What motivates you to keep moving forward, even when everything seems impossible? 

My family and children. My brothers-in-arms. You have to keep going to be useful to them. 

Looking back, what are you most proud of in your journey to overcome obstacles? 

I was able to overcome poverty and improve the financial situation of my family. I am proud to be a Roma soldier! I don't know where else Roma serve, but I am one of the few Roma who do. I also received awards from the mayor of Uzhhorod. This never happened before. It was very nice. 

Why do you consider yourself a hero? 

I do not consider myself a hero. I am a simple soldier. I fulfill my duties, which I receive in the course of combat operations. I am a mechanic-driver of a BMP-2. I never told my commander that I would not go somewhere to perform a task or that I did not want to do it. I had to. I went and pulled out wounded people.  

Author(s)

Roma Foundation for Europe

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