The bells in Ukraine are tolling for the Roma
Bloody pogroms and systematic human rights violations committed by members of state-tolerated extremist organizations against Romani encampments have sparked an exceptionally strong reaction recently from international institutions and politicians. These figures are calling on Kyiv to make these racist groups illegal and to take strong action against them.
The Ukrainian radical nationalist organization S14, infamous for perpetrating violent assaults against those who oppose its views – nostalgia for the historical figure Stepan Bandera, racist opinions – have publicly announced that they intend to continue their attacks against Roma. The organization regularly makes openly racist remarks in its statements, such as “We will purge Ukraine of the Roma”, “We will catch the Roma the minute they’re born”, etc.
A social media user under the name Serhiy Mazur who calls himself a representative of the S 14 group has posted statements such as: “The caste of untouchables must be broken up and punished as they deserve.” In addition to S14, there are dozens of other nationalist, racist-oriented organizations in Ukraine, frequently functioning according to the organizing principles of armed paramilitary groups; the most famous are the Right Sector, the Army of the Ukrainian Uprising, the Korchinski Brotherhood, the Triton of Stepan Bandera and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists.
Indifference begets evil
The S14 group, which reports on its activities through the Facebook social networking site, has recently carried out several pogroms in Kyiv and areas adjacent to the capital, and Roma in particular have been their targets. The group has repeatedly assaulted Romani families spending the night in the waiting room at the train station in Kyiv, driving them away from the facility, as well as attacking several Romani communities on the city outskirts.
“The Ukrainian authorities and police are indulgent of organizations that walk the line of extreme nationalism and open racism, and they ignore their criminal actions,” says Zola Kondur, vice-chair of a Ukrainian foundation that aids Romani women, the Chiricli Roma Women Fund. “If Romani people are assaulted and call the police, the officers either never respond or only respond when everything is over,” she complains, emphasizing that this laxity toward racist violence - or even openly-expressed police sympathy for the perpetrators of such violence - is turning young Ukrainian neo-Nazis into hyper-arrogant people who are convinced they can do whatever they like without ever being punished for their crimes.
Police benevolence toward perpetrators and indifference toward victims is, according to many Romani people in Ukraine, causing this growth in pogroms and racist incidents country-wide. Many new groups and organizations are being created that openly espouse racism and ultra-nationalism, and one such group called the “Sober and Evil Youth” is apparently to blame for one of the more recent anti-Romani pogroms in Lviv in the west of Ukraine.
Bloodbath in Lviv
This particular anti-Romani pogrom happened during the late night hours of Saturday 23 June and the early morning hours of Sunday 24 June in a small wood on the outskirts of the city where several dozen Romani people were living in tents. After the assault a 24-year-old Romani man was found stabbed to death at the camp, while two 20-year-old Romani men, a 30-year-old Romani woman and a 10-year-old Romani boy had all suffered relatively serious stab wounds as well.
“They were crude and cruel, without one drop of mercy. They wanted to slaughter my son like a lamb and they almost succeeded. I protected him and they stabbed me too, it was all like a nightmare, the Apocalypse, the end of the world,” the female survivor of the attack later told the daily Ukrainskaya Pravda.
The camp was assaulted by several armed youths at 11 PM who were members of the organized Nazi group “Sober and Evil Youth”. The attackers were armed with baseball bats and knives, and a few even had pistols.
Police later apprehended five of them. It has since come to light that they are long-term residents of Lviv, all of them under 18 and that the organizer of the assault is a 20-year-old man.
Police arrived at the scene 30 minutes after the first Romani people assaulted by the neo-Nazis managed to call the emergency response number. Some of the attackers were arrested when they returned to town after committing the crime.
According to police, the assailants made no effort to hide but behaved with great self-confidence, shouting nationalist slogans at the officers. During their interrogation they all admitted to having planned the attack on the Romani encampment with the intentional aim of driving Romani people out of Lviv, and the murder happened, according to the perpetrators, because “the Roma rejected our calls to leave voluntarily”.
A pogrom broadcast live
The bloody pogrom in Lviv is the consequence of many other hateful assaults against Romani people, the frequency and intensity of which have continually escalated, and police have not adequately intervened against these incidents. Another dark day for the Romani community members who have been living since the spring in the Holosiivskyi National Nature Park in Kyiv happened late in the evening on 7 June.
Dozens of skinhead youths with masked faces burst into the Romani camp after dark, all of whom were armed with axes, hammers and knives. They brutally beat and kicked the Roma while shouting racist abuse and calls for them to “Go back to India”.
The Azov National Militia claimed responsibility for what organizers called a “punishment march against inadaptable Roma”. They advertised the pogrom a week in advance on Facebook, through which they subsequently broadcast the beating and driving away of the frightened Romani people, live in real time.
Despite this advance notice, police never banned the event, never commented on it, and never warned the Romani people who were in immediate danger of assault. In the video footage of the pogrom, uniformed police officers do not appear until 20 minutes have passed, and they do not intervene against the neo-Nazis at all, but have a friendly chat with them before shouting nationalist slogans together with them such as “Glory to Ukraine, death to her enemies.”
In May, young Ukrainian nationalists assaulted a Romani camp in the western city of Ternopil as part of their “fight for a pure Ukraine” and subsequently set on fire a Romani-occupied building in the village of Rudne in the Lviv district. Prior to that, in April members of the neo-Nazi group C14 drove Roma from an encampment on the outskirts of Kyiv in Lysa Hora, where they attacked them with rocks and tear gas.
This wave of anti-Romani hatred in Ukraine, the most brutal displays of which are the crimes committed during these pogroms, is definitely not being ignored by institutions abroad. Human rights experts with the United Nations, responding to these recent incidents, have sent a sharp official note to Kyiv demanding an immediate end to the persecution of Romani community representatives and that the authorities and police take a clear stand on the prevention of attacks against Romani people.
Serious concerns about the fate of Romani people in Ukraine have been repeatedly expressed by the European Union, which has called on Kyiv to apply mechanisms that will limit unacceptable racial discrimination. Several Ukrainian human rights organizations, including the Amnesty International branch there, have issued a joint statement criticizing the Ukrainian authorities for ignoring these violent attacks by nationalists on Romani people.
Is Russia to blame?
Official Kyiv, of course, is apparently not planning any basic changes to how they are safeguarding the rights of Romani people. Vasyl Hrytsak, the head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has, on the contrary, decided to engage in the tried-and-true ideological practice of blaming Russia for the pogroms against Roma, declaring: "We have certain indications that Russia is responsible for the assaults on Romani people because Russia is doing its best, through all possible means, to cast Ukraine in a bad light as a country of aggressive, intolerant people.”
In this case, of course, such arguments lack logic. Extreme nationalists and racists in Ukraine would probably conspire with the Devil himself in their fight for the “pure Ukrainian race”, but they would never do so with the hated Russian enemy.
First published in Romani vod’i 6/2018.
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