Childs drawing from Ukraine, 2023.

Supporting the Roma community in Ukraine

The Roma community in Ukraine is one of the largest minority groups in the country, with an estimated population of around 400,000 people, however there is a lack of census data available to give a precise number.

Even before the war, the Roma community faced significant challenges, including discrimination, poverty, and limited access to education, healthcare, and social services.   

Many families lived in informal settlements, lacking basic infrastructure and utilities, and faced constant threats of eviction and forced displacement.   

The war has exacerbated these issues.   

Like so many people in Ukraine, many Roma families have been forced to flee their homes due to the conflict, with some seeking refuge in other parts of Ukraine or in neighbouring countries.   

However, the Roma community face additional challenges.   

It was reported that many struggle to access safe passage, due to a lack of documentation, or cases of discrimination noted at the border. There are also reports of cases of discrimination in the allocation of basic humanitarian assistance in some countries hosting and receiving refugees.

War Child’s Cash and Livelihoods Advisor, Tiara Ataii discusses this further in an article in Tribune.

Read more

The conflict has made it more difficult for the Ukrainian government and international organisations to address the socioeconomic challenges faced by the Roma community. As a result, the Roma community in Ukraine, particularly those in conflict-affected areas, remain among the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in the country.  

That’s why War Child’s work is so important.   

During war, the most vulnerable are often those who are impacted first. War Child prioritises the most marginalised and those most unlikely to have services accessible to them to ensure that no child is left behind.  

Through our partners, War Child are actively supporting the Roma community by funding shelters for internally displaced persons, rebuilding schools and creating safe spaces for families.  

For example, a renovated school in Western Ukraine has become a safe space for Roma families. When the war started, it sheltered 90 parents and children, and now serves as a space for educating children who have not had access to schooling before.   

With War Child’s support children are catching up on the vital education they missed in their early years, like learning the alphabet.   

Our approach to education is flexible and works around the needs of the children. Our catch-up classes allow age-appropriate education to be delivered outside of traditional school settings and in a shorter timeframe, such as through a condensed curriculum or intensified timetables.   

On schooldays, War Child also provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner to ensure that the children are eating enough throughout the day.  

Kateryna's Story

Kateryna* and her family are Roma, and they live in a shelter that is supported by War Child in Western Ukraine. Her children, Artem* and Alina*, are taking part in catch-up classes with the hope of eventually being able to enrol in a nearby school.  

As Kateryna reflected on her journey so far, she recalled how she once believed that the war wouldn't truly begin.  

“They said it might but we didn't believe it, it felt like rumours. Then in the middle of the night we were woken up by a big bang and saw a lot of smoke out the window. The sky was dark and gloomy it was as though nature knew what was happening. People were running around in a panic.”  

They endured weeks of conflict, where Kateryna's family took refuge in their basement at night. However, as their supplies dwindled, they made the difficult decision to leave and seek safety with relatives. At a checkpoint along the way, they were halted and asked for identification documents. It was then that a missile flew overhead, causing them to run for cover beneath a nearby bus shelter. The experience left them too frightened to continue, and they ultimately returned home.  

Fortunately, Kateryna learned about evacuation trains and was able to secure a spot on one that took them to Western Ukraine. The journey was arduous, with most of it spent in cramped, dark conditions. Upon arrival, they found themselves with nowhere to go and nothing to call their own. Forced to sleep at the train station, they were eventually connected with War Child's partner, who provided them with a place to stay at a shelter.  

Although Kateryna's children are attending catch-up classes at a school supported by War Child, they are unable to enrol in a local school until they obtain passports and birth certificates. Thankfully, War Child is assisting the family with obtaining these documents through legal aid.  

Artem, who is 14 years old, aspires to become a journalist. He spends much of his time watching the news, as the ongoing conflict has drastically altered life in their community, leaving little room for happiness.   

Although he misses his home, Artem has managed to form many new friendships since moving to the shelter.  

The war has changed everything, where we live, life is gloomier now, not so much happiness around.
Artem, aged 14, Ukraine.

In addition to providing shelter and education, Kateryna's family is receiving crucial support from War Child funded psychiatrists. According to Kateryna, the healing process has been slow and painful, but with each passing day, they are taking steps toward recovery.   

Although their current situation is beginning to feel more manageable with the support they have, Kateryna admits that even small triggers can still cause her to become emotional and easily moved to tears.  

“I have deep in the heart aching, our healing is not fast but we're doing that step by step. Still even now after all these months it is beginning to feel easier for us being here with the support we have. But really small things can set me off and get me very emotional. I cry very easily.”   

As the war rages on there is so much more we need to do to support the Roma community.  

Over the coming year, we plan to extend our outreach by concentrating on Roma families who have sought refuge in Hungary. Our efforts will involve providing support for early childhood development to Roma children and establishing integration councils aimed at promoting social cohesion.   

 In Ukraine, we remain committed to maintaining vital shelters and schools for the Roma community, while also prioritising support for families seeking to escape dangerous areas, providing aid for those struggling to afford medication, and continuing our efforts to support women through art therapy.  

A childs drawing from Ukraine, 2023.

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