the Roma “last of the last among the refugees” in Ouzhhorod, on the Slovak border

By Florence Aubenas

Posted today at 11:46 a.m., updated at 12:28 p.m.

Like the others, Ivan took his place in the queue at the aid center in Uzhhorod, a town in western Ukraine on the Slovakian border. In a month of war and millions of refugees, the scene has become desperately known: food and clothes are lined up under a white tent, where everyone helps themselves according to their needs. Sometimes there are lace tablecloths. Would you like some hot tea too? Coffee ? The immense solidarity of Ukrainians has shaken the world.

That’s it, Ivan comes forward in turn. A volunteer stops him. He shouldn’t touch anything. Get aside. Expect. Someone will take care of him. He is asked: “Are you clean? » Then we end up slipping him a packet of cookies, pushing him out. Ivan scampers off, pressing him against him, while glorifying God for this beneficial day. This time, he didn’t come out with nothing. Ivan is Roma, the name claimed by the Gypsies in Ukraine. “Among the refugees, they are the last of the last”, notes Serhii Cicak, 35, lawyer and Roma himself. Within days, 2,000 of them landed at Uzhhorod.

A Roma refugee family in Uzhhorod (Ukraine), on March 20, 2022, shows a video testifying to their survival in the Kharkiv metro, where they sheltered for twelve days at the start of the war.
Inside the shelter run by Eleonora Kulcar in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, on March 20, 2022.

Pastor Nikolai, a respected evangelist in Kharkiv, hesitated for a long time before leaving the second city of the country, one of the most affected, in the East. “We didn’t know what awaited us. » But pushed by hunger and the bombardments, seven families finally form a meager convoy, of which the pastor takes the lead. The flight lasts ten days across the country, without precise direction, running “from one hole to another”, as the pastor designates the shelters. Arrived in the West, the convoy wants to put down luggage. “Each village told us: everything is reserved. And he sent us elsewhere, a game of ping-pong ”, remembers Oxana, a seller at the market and also from the trip.

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In Oujhorod, 120,000 inhabitants and a rather prosperous economy, we saw them arrive in small broken groups, families in pieces, crowded cars, leaving from Odessa, Kharkiv or Donetsk. “The refugees we welcome have contacts, a strategy, they at least try to calculate where to go. The Roma don’t. They are the only ones who have no plan,” says Vitaliy Glagola, elected municipal official in charge of volunteers. They find themselves there without being able to explain either why or how. They are there, that’s all, as if history had led them there unwittingly: here, in the Carpathian mountains, Roma had already taken refuge during the Second World War to escape the Nazi concentration camps. Almost everyone ignored it. “But the mountains have eyes, they protect us, we feel it”, says a young man.

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