On October 17 around 50 far-right radicals, some carrying flaming torches, went door to door in the Ukrainian city of Irpin, near Kyiv, chanting hateful slogans and calling for violence against local Roma residents. The mob spray-painted hate speech comments on the fence of one Roma family’s house.
The march was apparently a response to a reported attack on a man two days earlier, allegedly by two Roma teenagers. Police observed the march but did not intervene. Several city officials, including the mayor, refused to condemn the mob’s hate speech and threats, but acknowledged it “scared Roma [people]” and “made them hide in their homes.”
One Irpin police official referred to the march as a “peaceful gathering.” Did he know that at least one of the leaders of Ukrainian right-wing paramilitary group C14 was among those marching? In 2018, C14 members chased women and small children with rocks and pepper spray, after burning down their tents in an attack on a Roma settlement in Kyiv, but the attackers walked free. Another attack, carried out by a different far-right group near Lviv in 2018, resulted in the death of one person and injuries to several others, including a child.
The October march has sparked a wave of online hate speech against the Roma community in several Ukrainian cities, according to Roma activist Anzhelika Bielova. Bielova recently told me that her friends and colleagues have also received threats. Additionally, one Irpin lawmaker who spoke out against hate speech towards Roma people has become a victim of online attacks.
Bielova herself was stabbed by an assailant in her apartment building in 2019. Although the attacker’s motives have not been established, Bielova’s colleagues suspect it was retaliation for her activism. “What frightens me is that we don’t understand when hate speech ... can turn into hate crimes,” Bielova said.
Roma people in Ukraine often face violence, but official investigations rarely produce outcomes. No one has been held accountable for the 2017 murder of Mykola Kaspitsky, leader of Roma community in Kharkiv region. Earlier this year, the case was closed for the fourth time, over concerns that police were attempting to sabotage it.
Ukraine should work to end discrimination against Roma people and ensure that crimes and calls for violence against them are thoroughly investigated.