Murder Of Roma Man By Far Right Reveals History Of Racist Violence In Ukraine

An attack in the late night hours of July 23rd left a young Romani man dead and four others wounded, including a 10-year-old child.

The 24-year-old was stabbed where he lay sleeping, in a Romani encampment outside Lviv, a province in Western Ukraine. According to Al Jazeera, the suspected perpetrators of the crime belong to a white nationalist group in Ukraine called C-14. Neo-Nazis in Ukraine have been responsible for many other high-profile attacks against Roma encampments outside of Kiev and Lviv, including attacks from April, May, and June. In fact, C14 and other Neo-Nazi groups not only publicize their violence, they also posted the attack that occurred in early June on Facebook Live.

Authorities in Ukraine are well aware of the violence committed against the Roma community in Ukraine but have yet to convict any of those involved in the attacks.

Ukraine has seen numerous instances of Neo-Nazis attacking feminist groups, members of the LGBT community and, most notably, the Romani community. However, law enforcement officials’ sluggish response has not helped curb the violence. Authorities in Ukraine have even been accused of ignoring the violence perpetrated against the Romani community. Although the July 23rd murder is part of a more recent string of attacks, allegations of police discriminating against Roma communities in Ukraine are not new.

A report from the European Roma Rights Centre details acts of abuses by Ukrainian police against Romani people. It includes accounts of police brutality, bribery, and unlawful detention – primarily affecting Roma communities. Although there is an increasing amount of white nationalist violence in Ukraine, many of the attacks on the Roma community do not receive the full scope of an investigation. For example, police did not begin investigating the April attack in which militants terrorized a community in Kiev until a video surfaced of the incident. And, although clear evidence of the Neo-Nazi presence in Ukraine exists, authorities prefer to point the fingers towards Russia.

Ukraine, like other European nations, has a long history of racism against its Roma minority.

All across Europe, the Romani people have faced persecution and treatment based on racist stereotypes as liars and gypsies. Persecution of Romanis goes back to slavery in medieval Europe, the Stalinist era, during which the community was victimized during artificially created famines in Eastern Europe, and the Nazi era, during which Romanis were targeted for liquidation and sent to concentration camps for extermination. Although extreme and systematized persecution of Romanis no longer happens, messages of supposed Romani inferiority continue to permeate society. Neo-Nazis in Ukraine uphold those messages through their extremism, making their brand of racism a matter of life and death.

Along with stereotypes and persecution, Roma communities often have to deal with the structural racism that contributes to the impoverishment of the Romani people. Through housing and workplace discrimination, as well as traditions unique to Romani culture, many Romanis typically live in areas excluded from greater social life. These excluded, majority-Roma areas tend to be poorer, less educated and further outside populous metro areas. The exclusion of Roma communities in addition to Romani stereotypes easily create space for targeted harassment, even by the state.

Fundamentally, though Ukraine is known for its proclivity towards human rights and democracy, racism still exists and affects those not completely welcome to Ukrainian society. Whereas Ukrainian law enforcement can simply designate the murder of a young Romani man as typical neo-Nazi extremism, it is far more difficult to confront the underlying beliefs that operate in Ukrainian society. Indeed, there must be discussion and awareness about the realities of the Romani people in Ukraine – a movement for equality.