The village of Loshchynivka in the Odesa region, Ukraine, is up in arms over the rape and murder of 9-year-old girl by suspected Roma man.
As reported by The Times of Israel, pogroms have returned to Ukraine, but this time the violence is not directed at the Jews.
At the end of August, about 10 Roma families numbering approximately 80 people were forced to flee from the village of Loshchynivka in an incident described in the Ukrainian media as a “Gypsy pogrom”.
An amateur video captured the August 27 incident in which a crowd of men threw rocks at windows and broke doors, as police watched but did nothing. The next day, about eight homes were destroyed — the walls knocked down with tractors, one home burned, another was left without a roof. Inside, television screens were smashed, mattresses ripped, a kitchen stove was thrown on its side.
“We got a phone call, they said, ‘Leave now or we will kill you.’ We didn’t have time to take our things or our documents. We just grabbed the children and ran,” Nikolay Churali, a Roma man who fled from his home with his wife, two children, his elderly mother and 10 relatives, was quoted as saying. “We were outside. We cried. The mosquitoes bit us. A half hour later, they started to break down the houses. I can’t describe it with words.”
When asked to compare Roma pogroms in today’s Ukraine to the Jewish pogroms that took place here 100 years ago, a 39-year old Loshchynivka resident who participated in the pogrom, said that the pogroms against Jews and Roma “have a lot of similarities,” because “the problems were the same.”
Some in the Jewish community also saw the similarities, although for different reasons.
The curator of the Moldova’s Jewish Heritage Museum, Irina Shihova, said it’s horrible that pogroms have “not changed over centuries.”
“The mechanism of the blood libel [including the willingness to invent a crime], the willingness to transfer the guilt from one criminal to an entire community, and the readiness to take the law into one’s own hands and to start a pogrom — as well as the xenophobia, the fear of the outsider — these things are the same,” Shihova wrote on Facebook.
Boleslav Kapulkin, the spokesman for Chabad Lubavitch in Odessa, however, says there is no connection between the Roma pogrom and anti-Semitic violence.
“No one [in the Ukrainian press] made any connection to Jewish pogroms,” he said, adding that he is not worried about the safety of the Jewish community.
“We have to live. We can’t begin to tremble from every little sound,” he said.
Meanwhile, the village is now patrolled by 10 men from the Azov Regiment, a right-wing civilian militia with the mission of “fighting the internal enemies of Ukraine.” Regiment member Mihail Zvonik, 19, said that Azov volunteers came to the village to ensure the safety of residents after they allegedly received telephone threats from the Roma.
“If the government tries to punish those who participated in the pogrom, that will evoke further unrest because the people will protest against it,” he said.
In a separate report, Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, quoted the director of the International Renaissance Foundation’s Roma Program Initiative, Olga Zhmurko, as saying: “This is a flagrant violation of human rights. The very essence of the will of the people who gathered at a spontaneous rally and decided to evict Roma is against the law. It discriminates against people based on ethnicity”.
Izmayil district chair Valentyna Stoykova acknowledged that the eviction decision made by the Loschynivka village council lacks legal force. She also said, in contrast to other reports, that the evicted Roma had decided for themselves to leave the village, making the eviction to other regional villages a compromise.
According to DW, it remains unclear how many people were actually affected by the eviction. The itinerant living patterns of many Roma is one reason for the uncertainty. Another is that there are some residential addresses where dozens of people have been registered, who may have actually never have lived there.
“These people live for the moment with their relatives. Other housing is not provided for them and there is no attempt to provide it,” Volodymyr Kondur, head of Human Rights Romani Center told DW. The Roma are planning to sue for damages resulting from the riots and illegal entry into their homes, he said. Moreover, he underlined that “what happened in Loschynivka is not a single case in Ukraine. Unfortunately, the representatives of the Roma community are discriminated against pretty often. If a crime is committed in a village where there are Roma, they are the first to be suspected and accused.”