Attacks on Roma and Public “Acceptance” of Far Right Violence

Xenophobia plays an important role in the outlook, ideology, and propaganda of the Ukrainian far right. It also significantly influences their activities. Xenophobia drives many of the illicit acts that organized, radical nationalist groups commit, including the commercially-motivated and political violence they are engaged in.

Ethnic hatred from right-wing extremists is an important marker of their overall intolerance while aggressive xenophobes openly manifest the sentiments shared by a significant portion of society. As a rule, the groups that are most often targeted with hate crimes perpetrated by right-wing extremists also experience the highest levels of xenophobia from society as a whole. In Ukraine, hate crime monitoringThe results of recent monitoring studies on crimes based on racial, ethnic and national hatred, as well as on the basis of homophobia, see, for example: “Xenophobia in Ukraine in 2018: monitoring report,” jewseurasia.org, March 1, 2019, http://jewseurasia.org/page18/news63111.html; “SOGI Hate Crime Report in 2018 in Ukraine,” Nash Mir, May 2, 2019, https://gay.org.ua/blog/2019/05/02/zvit-pro-zlochyny-na- grunti-nenavysti-for-tagging-my-sohi-in-ukraine-in-2018-r-dlia-shchorichnoho-twisted-bdipl-obsie. and opinion pollsThe results of sociological research see, for example: “European Public Opinion Three Decades After the Fall of Communism. Minority groups,” Pew Research Center, October 15, 2019, https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2019/10/14/minority-groups/; “No more than 15%. Why does the level of loyalty towards the LGBT Community remain low in Ukraine,” Novoye Vremia, October 17, 2019, https://nv.ua/eng/ukraine/events/lgbt-yak-stavlyatsya-do-gomoseksualnosti-v-ukrajini-ta- inshih-krajinah-doslidzhennya-50048367.html; et al. show the LGBT+ community and Roma people are most often the target of such xenophobia.

Context

The far right’s aggressive anti-Roma activity is a striking example of the close connection between the public’s xenophobic sentiments, the media’s irresponsibility, law enforcement agencies’ inaction, and the very nature of hate crimes.

Due to a variety of socio-economic, cultural and historical factors, a significant proportion of Roma are marginalized in Ukraine, and Ukrainian society holds numerous negative stereotypes about Roma people. Even reputable media outlets are not above exploiting these stereotypes by presenting a sweeping portrait of all Roma that paints them as drug dealers and fraudsters. Law enforcement agencies sometimes carry out so-called “preventive work” against Roma people, singling them out in an apparently discriminatory way. Roma experience difficulties in accessing administrative services, education, and medical care as well as problems with documentation, registration of residence, employment and so on.From comparatively recent reviews on the situation of Roma in Ukraine, see: G. Bocheva, “Roma in Ukraine - Time for Action: Priorities and Paths Towards Effective Integration Policy,” International Minority Rights Group, May 2019, https://minorityrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/MRG_Rep_Ukraine_UKR_Apr19.pdf.

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Many Ukrainians accept the extreme anti-Roma actions of the far right and radical nationalists have learned that they can promote themselves through violence

Sociological studies show that Ukrainians have more negative sentiments about Roma than about any other group in society. Researchers have also documented the highest levels of social discomfort, known as social distance, held by Ukrainians towards Roma people when compared to other ethnic groups.See, for example: “Ethnic prejudice in Ukraine,” Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, October 4, 2018, https://www.kiis.com.ua/?lang=en&cat=reports&id=793&page=1.

The socio-economic conditions in densely populated regions force some Roma to seek employment in large industrial cities. Meanwhile, informal Roma settlements on the outskirts of Kyiv, Lviv and other cities elicit the negative feelings towards Roma often held by the local population. Indeed, some inhabitants of temporary, informal settlements do lead an anti-social lifestyle. While this concerns a small part of Roma, the public tends to focus on these cases in a dynamic which only further contributes to the public’s xenophobia.

It is clear that xenophobic sentiments towards and the stigmatization of Roma only complicate their integration into Ukrainian society. As a result, the marginalization of Roma and xenophobia towards them continue and are reinforced.

For these reasons, an effective solution to challenges experienced by Roma people in Ukraine requires a comprehensive, systematic and long-term plan.

The Wave of Pogroms

Oddly enough, until recently the Ukrainian far-right paid little attention to the “Roma issue” in its public communications and activities. In general, violent xenophobic incidents were perpetrated by unorganized groups without any influence from formalized far right groups. The most striking examples of such violence was the pogrom in Loshchynivka (Odesa region) in 2016 and the tragic events in Vilshany (Kharkiv region) in 2017. Less dramatic incidents were also common. For example, Roma residents were forced to leave a settlement in the Kyiv neighborhood of Berezniaky on two occasions in recent years. The first time, the police evicted them from the settlement. On the second occasion, members of the local community pressured the Roma to leave, even going so far as offering to pay for their departure. In both cases, what remained of the settlement was burned.

The far right "discovered" the “Roma issue" in 2018. In the spring and summer of 2018, a wave of violent hate crimes against Roma persons swept across the country. The most high-profile cases involved organized right-wing extremist groups attacking informal Roma settlements. Here is a brief timeline of events:

On April 20, 2018 (on Hitler's birthday, though this may be a coincidence), members of the far right group C14 (also known as Sich) violently chased away Roma people from a camp in Kyiv’s Lysa Hora park, burning down their dwellings and belongings left behind. For days after the incident, the National Police refused to take any action despite numerous media reports and appeals by human rights activists.

Criminal proceedings were only opened after a video of the attack was posted on the Internet, clearly showing young people in balaclavas harassing Roma families (including women and children), throwing stones at them and using incapacitating chemical substances against them.LBTV, “Разгром ромского табора на Лысой горе” [The defeat of the Roma camp on Lysa Hora], Youtube vide, 0:41, April 25, 2018, https://youtu.be/IxjRkeJvdpk. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov promised to "put a stop" to such actions.“Arsen Avakov: We will react rigorously to all acts of violence against Ukrainian citizens,” Official site of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, April 27, 2018, http://mvs.gov.ua/ua/news/13333_Arsen_Avakov_Mi_budemo_zhorstko_reaguvati_na_vsi_proyavi_nasilstva_shchodo__gromadyan_Ukraini_.htm. But, like in many other cases, law enforcement’s pledges to take action were not fulfilled. Although the police took some investigative steps, one and a half years after the pogrom, no official suspects have been announced.

The pogrom in Lysa Hora spurred a considerable public response. Opinions shared on social media about C14’s actions were rather positive, contributing to the popularization of these right-wing extremists.See, for example, a compilation of comments here: Rita Bondar, “Табор уходит в пекло” [The camp goes to hell], Commons, June 4, 2018, https://commons.com/en/tabor-uhodit-v-peklo. The pogrom appears to have been a successful communications strategy for C14 in terms of branding and advertising.

Media coverage of C14’s actions was also inadequate. The group’s leadersТелеканал ZIK, "Лідер С14: Історія із циганами на Лисій горі почалася з їхніх безчинств і відсутності покарання" [C14 Leader: The story of the gypsies on Lysa Hora starts with their abuses and no punishment], Youtube video, 4:55, June 13, 2018, https://youtu.be/D7Y9GwpQrHI. and other nationalist radicalsТелеканал ZIK, "Напади на ромів - чому частішають випадки насильства?" [Attacks on Roma – why has violence increased?], Youtube video, 46:12, June 26, 2018, https://youtu.be/LqqBgnd2huI. were invited to talk shows to discuss “the Roma issue.”Факти ICTV, "Смертельное нападение на цыган. Кому выгодна радикализация Украины?" [Deadly attack on gypsies. Who benefits from Ukraine's radicalization?], Youtube video, 10:24, July 1, 2018, https://youtu.be/PFuLp9qSUiM. Some presenters and journalists (for example, Roman Skrypin) openly sided with the pogromistsТелеканал ZIK, "Скрипін: Два тижні С14 попереджала поліцію про наметовий табір циганів - реакції не було" [Skrypin: For two weeks C14 alerted police about the gypsy tent camp – no response], Youtube video, 5:55, May 28, 2018, https://youtu.be/4IogB3Jv2xY. More often than not, media outlets’ editorial policy carefully mimicked "objectivity,” but in reality the segments and the introductions were often couched in xenophobia. Under the guise of "discussing" and "presenting different points of view," violence against Roma people was covertly or even directly endorsed and promoted.

Other right-wing extremist groups found it tempting to join in the "success" and began to copy C14. On April 23, 2018, representatives of the Nemezyda group set fire to several empty cabins in the Rusanivskyi Gardens in Kyiv, where Roma people lived. The following day more cabins were set on fire; over two days at least six houses were set on fire, including one occupied by a woman and her young daughter at the time of the attack).Bondar, “Табор уходит в пекло.” Additionally, representatives of Nemezyda claimed that they were also "forced” to “treat” one Roma person with pepper spray.Elmira Musaieva, 2018, “Говорите, у погромы ромов” [Speaking of the Roma pogrom], Facebook, May 1, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/kosmicheskaya.era/posts/1878955209069547.

An attack on a Roma settlement in an industrial zone in the village of Rudno, near Lviv, took place a few weeks later on May 9, 2018. With their faces covered in masks, up to 30 people were involved in the incident, which burned down the settlement.Iryna Saievych, “«Погром в ромському таборі влаштували близько тридцяти молодиків у масках» – знайомі потерпілих” [“About 30 youths in masks raided a Roma camp in a Pogrom” – acquaintances of the victims], Hromadske Radio, May 10, 2018, https://hromadskeradio.org/news/2018/05/11/pogrom-v-romskomu-tabori-vlashtuvaly-blyzko-trydcyaty-molodykiv-u-maskah-znayomi-poterpilyh-foto. Violence followed, and the attackers beat several Roma people,Olya Makar, 2018, "Ви вже уклали собі в голові, що ми тепер живемо у країні, де погроми стали буденністю і нормальністю?" [Have you already got it in your head that we live in a country where pogroms have become commonplace and normal?], Facebook, May 12, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2120089624673398&set=a.160295503986163.34807.100000171424210. injuring at least two.Saievych, “«Погром в ромському таборі»”

On the evening of May 22, 2018, in a forest on the outskirts of Ternopil, a group of right-wing extremists attacked an informal Roma settlement. The attackers fired non-lethal weapons and chased Roma people into the woods, after which they burned down the temporary dwellings. According to law enforcement agencies, one man was injured in the attack. He was hit several times with a stick."Вооруженное нападение на лагерь ромов под Тернополем:  Полиция трактовала произошедшее, как хулиганство" [Armed attack on Roma camp near Ternopil: police treated the incident as hooliganism], TSN Ukraine, May 23, 2018, https://ru.tsn.ua/ukrayina/vooruzhennoe-napadenie-na-lager-romov-pod-ternopolem-policiya-traktovala-proizoshedshee-kak-huliganstvo-1160199.html. Journalists were able to find and interview several victims, including women.Galyna Tereshchuk, "Роми переховуються після спалення їхнього табору неподалік Тернополя" [Roma hiding after burning of their camp near Ternopil], Radio Svoboda, May 28, 2018, https://www.radiosvoboda.org/a/29255157.html.

While 12 suspects were arrested in hot pursuit, they were released soon after being identified.Iryna Balachuk, ""Нацдружини" з сокирами і молотами влаштували "толоку" у таборі ромів у Києві" ["National Druzhyna" staged a "cleanup” with axes and hammers at a Roma camp in Kyiv] Ukrainska Pravda, June 7, 2018, https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2018/06/7/7182669. As far as is publicly known, the authorities carried out no further investigative actions. Allegedly, some of the attackers belonged to Right Sector (Pravyi Sektor).Tereshchuk, "Роми переховуються після спалення їхнього табору." The leadership of a local Right Sector group denied that its members had been involved in the attack.""Правый Сектор" Опровергает причастность к разгрому цыганского лагеря под Тернополем" ["Right Sector" denies participation in vandalizing a gypsy camp near Ternopil], TSN Ukraine, May 24, 2018, https://ru.tsn.ua/ukrayina/pravyy-sektor-oprovergaet-prichastnost-k-razgromu-cyganskogo-lagerya-pod-ternopolem-1160232.html. Law enforcement authorities claimed that some of the attackers belonged to right-wing organizations, but did not specify which ones."Ромы Рассказали Как Напали На Табор На Окраине Тернополя" [Roma recount how their camp was attacked near Ternopil], job-sbu.org, May 30, 2018, https://job-sbu.org/romyi-rasskazali-kak-napali-na-tabor-na-okraine-ternopolya-57589.html.

On June 7, 2018, members of the right-wing party National Corps and its related paramilitary formation National Druzhyna destroyed an informal Roma settlement in Kyiv’s Holosiivskyi National Nature Park.Anya Bilous, "«Національні дружини» знищили ромський табір у Голосіївському парку" [“National Druzhyna” destroyed a Roma camp in Holosiivskyi park], Zaborona, June 7, 2018, https://zaborona.com/nac-druzhyny-romy-golosiyevo. Around the same time, leaflets, purportedly prepared by the groups, were circulated that read: “Gypsies in Ukrainian cities – this is theft, robbery, drug trafficking and dirty dens. They could not care less about the norms of behavior in our society. They ignore our laws. They do not want to work. They attack citizens in the streets. Almost every Ukrainian family has faced fraud from Gypsy communities.”The original leaflet is with the author. Once again, despite high-profile police statements,"Поліція Києва жорстко реагуватиме на порушення закону з боку представників будь-яких громадських організацій" [Kyiv police will react harshly to violations of the law by representatives of any public organizations] National Police Kyiv, June 7, 2018, https://kyiv.npu.gov.ua/news/novini/policziya-kijeva-zhorstko-reaguvatime-na-porushennya-zakonu-z-boku-predstavnikiv-bud-yakix-gromadskix-organizaczij. no real action was taken to prosecute the criminals.

On June 11, 2018, a group of young people, who appeared to be football hooligans, attacked a group of Roma near the Kyiv railway station.

Late in the evening of June 23, 2018, members of the group Sober and Angry Youth attacked a Roma settlement in a forest area near Truskavetska Street, on the outskirts of Lviv."Під Львовом напали на табір ромів – одна особа загинула, четверо травмовані" [Roma camp attacked near Lviv – one killed, four injured], UNIAN, June 24, 2018, https://www.unian.ua/incidents/10163585-pid-lvovom-napali-na-tabir-romiv-odna-osoba-zaginula-chetvero-travmovani.html. A 23-year-old man, David Pop, Kateryna Serhatskova, "«Для сім’ї це трагедія». Що відомо про вбитого у Львові рома" [“It’s a tragedy for the family”. What is known about the Roma killed in Lviv], Zaborona, June 24, 2018, https://zaborona.com/shcho-vidomo-pro-vbytogo-roma-lviv. died as a result of the attack and four other Roma, including a 10-year-old child, were stabbed. The suspects were detained in hot pursuit.

The brutality of the June 23 pogrom shocked Ukrainian society. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and other officials said the event was the result of a provocation carried out by Russian intelligence services. Open source information on the group that carried out the attack does not support this conclusion.Oleksiy Kuzmenko,"Нападение на лагерь ромов в Украине: кто такие «Трезвая и злая молодежь»?" [Attack on the Roma camp in Ukraine: who are the “Sober and Angry Youth?”], Bellingcat, June 26, 2018, https://ru.bellingcat.com/novosti/ukraine/2018/06/26/straightedge-nazis; Serhii Surepin, "Неонацисти зі зв’язками в Росії та місцеві «патріоти». Хто стоїть за нападами на ромів" [Neo-Nazis with ties to Russia and local “patriots”. Who is behind the Roma attacks?] Zaborona, June 26, 2018, https://zaborona.com/organizatsii-shcho-napadayut-na-romiv. However, it is likely that reluctance about being branded as Kremlin provocateurs in the future contributed to a decrease in such right-wing extremist attacks.

During the investigation, the Prosecutor's Office rejected claims that anti-Roma bias motivated the crime. The alleged organizer of the pogrom and the killer are now in custody, while the rest of the attackers are under house arrest.“Організатору нападу на ромський табір у Львові загрожує довічне ув’язнення” [Organizer of attack on Roma camp in Lviv faces life imprisonment], Tvoe Misto, December 28, 2018, http://tvoemisto.tv/news/kilkom_napadnykam_na_romskyy_tabir_u_lvovi_zagrozhuie_dovichne_uvyaznennya_97733.html. Two teenagers involved with the pogrom reached an agreement with the Prosecutor and cooperated with the investigation. On August 14, 2019, the Pustomytivskyi District Court in the Lviv region sentenced them to 4.5 years imprisonment, however the sentence was reduced to probation.Case 450/3432/18, Pustomitivskiy District Court in the Lviv Region, August 14, 2019, http://reyestr.court.gov.ua/Review/83737742.

In Lieu of a Conclusion: Crime Without Punishment

Due to the prevalence of xenophobia within Ukrainian society, as well as genuine social problems experienced by Ukraine’s so-called “nomadic” Roma, many Ukrainians accept the extreme anti-Roma actions of the far right. The radical nationalists, in turn, have learned that they can promote themselves through violence that has support within society, and have been happy to take advantage of this fact.

Many media outlets resorted to anti-Roma hate speech and publicized the pogromists’ violent actions. Their irresponsibility has contributed to the violence. It should be noted that in the pre-election period, due to in-fighting and competition, the far right needed to generate public interest in order to gain media coverage. Law enforcement agencies, for their part, have made it clear that they are unlikely to take meaningful action against the organizers and participants in these violent acts. As a result, the April incident at Lysa Hora has become a model for other marginal far right groups to copy. As is often the case, attackers’ impunity has led not only to copy-cats, but also to escalation.

It is clear that many are willing to follow C14, and that the Lviv tragedy could have been avoided if the perpetrators of the Kyiv pogrom in April 2018 had been detained without delay. Authorities and civil society were united in condemning the violence, and the media reported on it responsibly and with professionalism.

The June 2018 pogrom in Lviv was the culmination the previous year's wave of violence against Roma people – though not the final chord. For example, members of the Nemezyda group carried out another attack on a Roma settlement in Kyiv a few days later."У Києві розгромили табір ромів: активісти зробили жорстку заяву" [Roma camp destroyed in Kyiv: activists make strong statement], RBK Ukraine, June 26, 2018, https://styler.rbc.ua/ukr/zhizn/kieve-razgromili-tabor-romov-aktivisty-sdelali-1530008685.html. The brutality of the attack shocked society, and the condemnation of xenophobes became louder. As law enforcement officials characterized anti-Roma activity as a Russian provocation, the reputational risk of conducting a pogrom began to outweigh the potential benefits for the far right. Finally, after the murder of David Pop, which provoked considerable backlash, the police were forced to arrest the pogromists. After that, impunity was no longer a given for anti-Roma violence.

However, the main dynamics that made 2018’s wave of pogroms possible continue to fester. The state’s “Strategy for the Protection and Integration of the Roma National Minority into Ukrainian Society” has been implemented formally but has not practically affected the lives of the majority of Roma who genuinely need protection and assistance with integration.

Meanwhile, the media continue to publish xenophobic material and endorse aggressive discrimination and violence against Roma people."Журналісти порушили етичні принципи щодо висвітлення нападу на ромів біля Центрального залізничного вокзалу у Києві" [Journalists violate ethical standards in coverage of Roma assault near Kyiv Central Railway Station], Commission of Journalism Ethics, October 29, 2018, http://www.cje.org.ua/ua/news/zhurnalisty-porushyly-etychni-pryncypy-shchodo-vysvitlennya-napadu-na-romiv-bilya-centralnogo. There is no reason to believe that the level of xenophobia against Roma people among the public will decrease. Members of the far right (for example, C14 leaders) sometimes publish posts on social networks about "light" violence against Roma and garner significant support from their audience.Oleksandry Vorobyey, 2019, "Отримав сьогодні цікавий досвід, цікавий, бо я ізлучаю добро і зі мною зазвичай такого не трапляється" [I had an interesting experience today, interesting because I was spreading good and that doesn’t usually happen with me.], Facebook, October 12, 2019, https://www.facebook.com/oleksandr.vorobyey/posts/10212355987894751; Kyiv Operative, 2019, “"Це відео надіслав нам наш підписник із центрального залізного вокзалу." [This video was sent to us by a subscriber from the central railway station], Facebook (video), October 12, 2019, https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=523781271742860. It seems that the only thing holding nationalist extremists back from continuing 2018's pattern of violence are fears that the era of total impunity is over.