The NGO “Chachimo” from Kharkiv, chaired by Mykola Burlutskyi, is involved with the Roma integration into the Ukrainian society by means of education and human right protection. Mykola dreams that the number of well-educated Roma citizens who support Ukraine and can properly represent the interests of the Roma community will be increasing.
After a wave of internally displaced people fled from Donbas, Slobozhanshchyna became the third largest region of compact Roma settlements in Ukraine (after Zakarpattia and Bessarabia). The Roma in the east of Ukraine are more integrated into society as a result of the collectivization policy of the Soviet Union. However, they still suffer from discrimination because of their nationality.
The conditions of each social group are like a litmus test of how healthy and developed the whole society is. The Roma community is among the most vulnerable social groups and it has complications with access to education, healthcare, employment and other social services. Also, there is a threat that stereotypes about the Roma community can serve as the basis for violence.
This year, police has already registered six reports of attacks on Roma settlements in Kyiv, Lviv and Ternopil.
Mistrust to the government institutions, difficulties in obtaining documents and biases in recruitment prevent many members of Roma community from becoming a full-fledged part of society. In addition, those having an asocial lifestyle are usually more visible, while well-integrated people do not declare their nationality because they are afraid of discrimination. The media generalize and emphasize the nationality in news about theft and begging, which leads to subjective stereotypes. All these factors create an endless circle. In order to break it, long coherent cooperation between the authorities, the Roma community and society in general is needed.
The Kharkiv Roma NGO “Chachimo” was founded in 2005. This organization is engaged in educational and human rights activities for the Roma.
Initially, “Chachimo” was participating mainly in educational projects: preschool education, classes for parents, translation of the books in Romani language. The head of the NGO “Chachimo” Mykola Burlutskyi says that since 2014 there has been a need for human rights protection:
— There are many internally displaced Roma. In addition, we see now that there is a negative trend towards the Roma. We see stories of arson and murder in different regions of Ukraine. We had no major problems in Kharkiv until there was a murder of Roma in Vilshany in May 2016. But when it has become a regularity (because it happened in Kyiv, Vinnytsia, Lviv), how can we know it will not happen here? We are searching which actions to take, we met the National Police to resolve these issues. In general, we are now moving towards protecting the rights and the security of Roma communities in general.
It is not easy to count how many Roma live in the region currently. The main obstacle to have a precise number is the fact that some Roma do not have documents or are not registered anywhere. Besides, Roma can migrate within the country. Mykola Burlutskyi believes that Roma in Slobozhanshchyna have a better life than Roma in Zakarpattia:
— I think that Roma people are better integrated in the east of Ukraine. Probably, this happened due to historical reasons, back when Khrushchev issued an order prohibiting nomadism and vagrancy. The Roma were forced to leave nomadism. If the Roma live in camps, then the integration is slower. If they live separately, they experience a stronger influence of Ukrainian culture and language.
The task of “Chachimo” is not only to draw the attention of the authorities to the problems of the Roma but also to teach the Roma people to take an active part in solving social issues. The organization searches for 10-12 active people from the Roma community, conducts human rights training with them, teaches them to communicate with authorities. On the other side, “Chachimo” carries out training on the mentality and culture of the Roma and teaches how to build relationships with them:
— We understand that people need to know about the Roma, and the Roma need to know more about the state and what it means to be a citizen. We are working to ensure that Romany communities have self-government, literary. Now we have a cooperation with the authorities, we have a general plan. The authorities understand that it is impossible to do something for the Roma without involving the Roma themselves. And in order to make Roma take an active position, we must work with them.
On April 8, 2017, on the International Day of the Roma, a flashmob took place in Kharkiv. Several dozens of Roma in traditional costumes paraded and threw a concert in the central park. The participants also performed the Ukrainian anthem in Ukrainian and Romani with a guitar accompaniment of Mykola Burlutskyi:
— We have brilliant bands who are known and loved. I think that if it were not for the Romany songs and dances, it would be even more difficult for the Roma. They express their feelings and their attitude to life through dance.
Mykola Burlutskyi was born in Russia in a family of the Servitka Roma – an ethnic group that was formed in Ukraine 400 years ago. When Mykola was 10 years old, the Burlutskyis family moved to the town Vovchansk, which is 72 kilometres away from Kharkiv. There he began to attend the Protestant church. In Merefa, Mykola Burlutskyi participated in missionary ministries and established a church community. At the beginning of the 2000s, he began translating the Bible into Romani:
— We lived in the house, I went to school, finished 11 grades. My whole family is educated. We have a traditional Romany family, but our neighbours were Ukrainians and Russians, so I had a multicultural childhood. Now, I have an advantage that I understand the way of thinking of both the Slavs and the Roma. Therefore, it’s easier for me to build a dialogue. When you know the values of people, it’s easier to communicate with them at the level of their values.
For 10 years Mykola has been living in Kharkiv, where he became a Pastor of the Church of Serving the Holy Trinity and a chairman of the NGO “Chachimo”.
“Chachimo” means “truth” in Romani. Here we provide legal advice and consultations to people. The main goal is to integrate the Roma into Ukrainian society, to protect the Romany community. This is what I’m doing now.
Mykola tells us that he has personally experienced discrimination based on nationality:
— Once I wanted to rent an apartment. When I came to the agency, I was told that it would be difficult to find an apartment with my face. But they said that there was an option. We went to the landlord and he asked, “What is your nationality?” Well, in general, the Roma originate from India. I said, “You know, my ancestors were from India.” He said that he hadn’t had any Indians there yet, and invited us to come in. There was another case when I was traveling to Russia, and the customs officer approached me and said, “For the first time in my life I see a Gipsy with a laptop”. I can give many more such examples.
Mykola Burlutskyi believes that the reason for the popularity of stereotypes about the Roma is the fact that those Roma who are studying and working do not highlight their nationality, and those Roma who beg or tell the fortune are more visible. In the end, any negative experience is projected on the entire community.
The attitude towards the Roma reflects the processes that are taking place in the society. This is a very good indicator. The issue is not only about the Roma, because today those are Roma, and tomorrow another group of people. Everyone must start with themselves, review their values. I understand that this issue is very important and this process can’t be changed in one year.
Mykola tells that there are 13 Romany ethnic groups. They all have their own culture and community structure. However, all the Roma have values passed from generation to generation:
— For the Roma, the greatest value is the family: parents and children. You would rarely see an elderly Roma in the nursing home or kids in an orphanage. To leave a child without a family is unacceptable for the Roma. You know, the Roma have a lot of mercifulness in their mentality. The Roma would never refuse to give a glass of water when asked. The Roma have such a way of thinking that if you have a piece of bread then you divide it and share with another one. I do not want to idealize it now, because there are different people, but I speak about the values that prevail in the Romany culture and Romany traditions.
Mykola Burlutskyi stresses that the integration of the Roma is beneficial not only for the Roma but also for the Ukrainians, for the whole society.
I think that separatism begins when the country is divided into the Roma and non-Roma, when they start to divide into the other nationalities. I say that I am a Ukrainian because my family lives here. This is my homeland. When we destroy these walls and say that we are united, it benefits the whole Ukraine. I understand that this work brings happiness to everyone.
Mykola dreams that the Roma in Ukraine would be treated as Ukrainians, as equal people. He believes that first of all, we should see a person there and then pay attention to nationality and other attributes:
— I have such a dream that the Romany people should go to politics and participate in self-governance in order to represent the interests of the Romany community. The Roma should be not only the citizens but patriots of their country. I have a dream that a Ukrainian and a Roma would stand next to each other, a Roma would sing Ukrainian songs, and a Ukrainian would dance the “Tsyhanochka”. As a religious person I know that if there is no love, the evil comes instead. If people do not love each other, then this world will not last long. Maybe I’m an idealist, but I understand that these are the values that people should have.