Ukrainians look to the future even as the war continues
24 February 2023 marks one year since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. There is still no end to the war in sight and in many parts of the country the need for emergency aid is greater than ever. But the Ukrainian partners of the Deaconess Foundation are also trying to see positive developments and are looking to the future. International attention has brought visibility to issues facing the Roma population.
Solidarity from the rest of the world brings hope to Ukrainians
“So much happened this year. Many people have lost their homes, jobs and loved ones. Family members are forced to live apart from each other. But Ukrainians have also received a huge amount of assistance and solidarity from all over the world,” says Zola Kondur, one of the founding members of Roma Women Fund Chiricli, a partner organisation of the Deaconess Foundation.
Together with Chiricli, the foundation has been promoting the rights of the discriminated Roma minority in Ukraine since 2019, with the support of a development cooperation grant from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The work with Chiricli has helped promote Roma livelihoods, participation in society and equal access to services. The work has continued even during the war, in addition to the Deaconess Foundation’s channelling of emergency aid through Chiricli since February 2022.
“Throughout the year, with cooperation with the Deaconess Foundation we have helped more than 50,000 of the most vulnerable Ukrainians, including disabled and elderly people, minorities and single parents,” explains Kondur. “Chiricli has provided food aid and distributed hygiene supplies, helped with evacuations and provided counselling. At the same time, we have defended those refugees who have faced discrimination.”
Lack of electricity and heating makes life hard for everyone
The need for emergency aid has been further increased by winter weather, lack of electricity and heating and the millions of jobs that have been lost due to the war. Power cuts and electricity shortages caused by Russian bombing of power plants also hamper the work of staff at Roma Women Fund Chiricli.
“Every day starts with finding out where to go to access electricity. At the office, the situation is better in terms of access to electricity than in the homes of the staff. Because the office is in central Kyiv, it gets electricity for about two-thirds of the day. Staff have to go to the office to use electricity, but that’s not always possible when there is bombing in Kyiv,” says Kondur with a sigh.
Ukrainians do not give up on the front line, in everyday life or at work
Day after day, constant uncertainty about the future weighs heavily on people. Many are trying to work through their traumatic experiences.
“People are stressed and need psychosocial support. But at the same time, we all understand that we cannot just stop and turn inwards to work through our traumas, we have to work on our future now. That is why most people try to stay positive and work hard for the future of their children, their families and their country, to adapt to new situations and move on,” explains Kondur.
Greater international visibility for Roma issues
Although the war has made the basic work of the Roma Women Fund Chiricli to promote Roma women’s rights far harder, it has also led to some progress.
“Small Ukrainian minority organisations have received support from large international organisations, and this has boosted their activities. It has also given us the chance to speak up about the situation of Roma in Ukraine in international fora,” says Kondur. “The application to join the EU has prompted the authorities and policy-makers to make more minority-friendly strategies and changes to the law.”
Although there is no quick end to the war in sight, the staff at Roma Women Fund Chiricli and other Ukrainians are not giving up.
“Despite the war, our country is developing and we are involved in building the Ukraine of the future.”
Key results of the work in Ukraine:
- 65 000 warm meals have been distributed in Kyiv, Odessa, Chernivtsi, Kharkiv and occasionally also in other cities.
- 4000 food packages and hygienic products have been distributed.
- 3000 people received financial support and 30 000 advice related to evacuations.
- 20 000 people have received advice and support regarding safe roads, border crossing legislation, martial law, personal documents, humanitarian support, state support for internally displaced people and on how to leave the country and seek asylum in other countries. The counselling was delivered face to face, through social media and flyers, in Romani language and Ukrainian.
- Chiricli has provided information about the situation of Roma for the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine in the context of the Russian aggression.
- Regional and municipal authorities have been contacted to inform them about observations made in the field, for example when some Roma and other vulnerable people have not been able access state support for internally displaced people due to discrimination.
- Chiricli has been in regular contact with national authorities to make sure that Roma issues are taken into account in the programmes and laws that Ukraine develops also now during the war.
- Representatives of Chiricli have given statements for the international and national media providing true information against Russian propaganda.
- Three cases of discrimination have been directed to the Ombudsman for Equality and Chiricli has provided support for the victims and the Ombudsman staff to work with the cases.