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Problems of gypsies in Ukraine

08.12.00 | D. Groysman, Vinnitsa

Ukrainian gypsies are mentioned in mass media mainly when some offence or crime committed by gypsies is described. Such an attitude to gypsies, full of suspicion and animosity became a stereotype of the majority of the Ukrainian people. Gypsies, a people with many-thousand-years history, one of the oldest ethnoses in Ukraine, has always been persecuted, and in 20th century has been practically exterminated by German fascists.

During the census of 1989 only 48 thousand of Ukrainian citizens called themselves gypsies, but experts of State National Committee believe that the real number of gypsies is 2 - 2.5 times more. The most gypsies live in Transcarpathia, in Southern and Eastern regions of Ukraine. They mostly live in suburbs in difficult living conditions, which is the cause of high infant mortality rate. The education level of gypsies is the lowest in the country. By expert estimates 20% of gypsies of Transcarpathia are illiterate. Inadequate education and professional training, together with distrust resulted in almost 100% unemployment of gypsies.

Nomadic gypsies are especially unprotected; they often have no propiska (residential permit) and other documents. Svetlana Davida, a lawyer from the ’Association of young gypsies’, told me about a great number of complaints at the cruel and humiliating treatment which they experience from law-enforcers.

Recently in one small Czech town the local authorities built a high wall around a district where gypsies live, thus making of their district a typical ghetto. A wave of protests, that rolled through Europe, made the local authorities to destroy the wall. Now the authorities plan to demolish the district too. Historically it has happened that gypsies have no state of their own, so, in any country they will belong to the ethnic minority. This does not mean that they must be citizens of the second sort: citizens of the second sort inhabit only second sort countries.