Conversely, successful Roma often hide their nationality in order to avoid prejudice. I know such a boy, a student at Shevchenko University. He only started attending our events and telling his classmates that he was a Roma in his last years of study.
I understand the anger of people who had been pickpocketed once on the street. I understand that they are very aggrieved, they remember this incident all their lives. Indeed, there are people who do such things, we cannot but admit it. Every time I go to the subway I always look at my bag, because I know that many people could steal my stuff in the subway. But you can see that Roma do not pick pockets in the subway: these are people from other ethnic groups that you never think about.
I would like people to understand that Roma are just more visible on the street. Yes, there are Roma who do this. But first, we can never say that only Roma do it. Secondly, we have to understand why they do it. Often, they have no other choice. Nobody employs them, they have no education, they cannot live in another way. I think these problems have to be addressed.
According to our survey, only 37 percent of Roma have official jobs.
It is extremely important to give people a chance, to show that they can earn money differently. It doesn't always work out, but we don't stop trying. Seven years ago, I was asked to hire a Roma woman who had been released from prison for theft. She has worked with us since then; she is extremely committed to her work and says that over the years the mind-set of her family has changed completely, because they never understood or knew and did not believe they could earn a living by lawful means.
Our ambitious goal is the full inclusion of Roma in all areas of life in the country. For this, political will is not enough, it requires fundamental understanding and acceptance of the value of human rights in society. There is a long way to go. But there are successful examples from other countries: for instance, in Finland, Romani has been recognized as one of the official languages.
Another issue is traditional early marriages. Girls are married at the age of 13-15, and often afterwards they drop out of school. We have programmes for girls, we do our best to persuade them to continue their education.
In 2004, my mother founded the Chiricli Roma Women Foundation to uphold not only her own rights but also the rights of all Roma women. Today, more girls are receiving a higher education, representing the interests of their communities, and working in decision-making positions.
The value of family unites all Roma. For us – family is the top priority. Then comes the cult of children, respect for elderly people, and the sense of community. My favourite holiday is Christmas, because all the family comes together. We live in different parts of Ukraine and this holiday is a reason to take a pause at work and meet everyone. Besides, on this day my mother celebrates her birthday – that is why this day is so special. We always keep in touch, call each other every day, and even have a joint “Family” chat in Messenger, and every day there are around a hundred messages sent there. Roma people value the family the most – that is why keeping in touch, asking what’s going on in the life of your family members and supporting each other are on the to-do list every day.
I can fight for human rights, for women’s rights, go on the march for equality and at the same time be a devoted mother, a wife, a Roma woman. I do not see any dissonance here; these are things that can be combined and are absolutely in harmony with each other.
On Human Rights Day on 9 December 2019, UNDP launched the “Just Like You” photo exhibition in Kyiv. It tells the stories of 10 Ukrainians who took up the challenge of protecting human rights. “Just Like You” is a joint initiative of Real Stories Production and “Human Rights For Ukraine” project, which is being implemented by UNDP in Ukraine and financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark.