Forced to flee the war, Lyudmila was assured that authorities would rehabilitate her in a town in western Ukraine. But when he arrived, they looked at him once and turned him away.
“On the phone, it was okay. We agreed in the room. But when I arrived, they saw my black skin and refused to give me shelter,” she said.
A member of the Roma minority, the 59-year-old – who does not want to be named – described in his own confession “a success story”, one of the few educated members of his community.
And the same is true of his daughter Ilona, who is a lawyer.
Together, they refuse to back down, threatening to sue, and after a full day of fighting, they spend a month with Ilona’s mother-in-law and three children, and get the key to the house.
“If I hadn’t been educated, we would have slept on the street or at the train station,” explained Lyudmila, who has now returned to her home in Trebukhiv, just west of Kiev, after returning from Russian troops. Areas to focus on southern and eastern Ukraine.
Like him, many Roma in Ukraine say they have fought for refuge and help in the country since the Russian invasion on February 24.
According to the census, there are about 50,000 Roma people in Ukraine, but rights groups say that number is closer to 400,000.
“The biggest problem is housing: people don’t want to invite Roma families,” said Julian Condor of Chirikli, an international Ukraine-based charity that supports Roma women.
He says that like many countries, the long-held prejudice against the Roma people has become a source of fear for them.
On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch accused neighboring Moldova of “deliberately housing most Roma refugees separately from others fleeing the war in Ukraine”, condemning the move as “unequal and discriminatory”.
Through its hotline, Chirikli has gathered a lot of evidence about what happened during the eviction.
“A bus (northeastern city) was leaving Kharkiv and the driver said ‘no’ to a Roma family,” Kondur said, citing just one example.
“Sometimes, the Roma themselves are so accustomed to discrimination that they take it for granted” and rarely complain, he said.
Lyudmila initially told AFP she did not feel any discrimination before describing her experience.
Although she struggled to find refuge in western Ukraine, in the first two weeks of the war, Ludmila sheltered about 50 Roma in her basement.
After a long floral dress, she remembered the fear and cold of those early days.
“Ten kilometers from here, there were Russian tanks and very heavy explosions. It was really scary,” he said.
And it was so cold that one of his grandchildren became seriously ill.
We are also suffering
In addition to the lack of solidarity shown to their community, Roma have also struggled to access certain types of aid because they do not have proper documentation.
To avoid persecution under Soviet rule, Roma did not register with local authorities and many did not have identity documents, birth certificates or passports to prove citizenship.
“At the time, there was a saying: if you don’t have a passport, you don’t have a problem,” Condor said.
Since Ukraine became independent in 1991, many Roma have gone to register, but about 30,000 have not yet done so, putting them at even greater disadvantage during the war.
“Of course, to get a food package, you need to have identity documents to get financial support from both the government and the UN,” he explained.
For all these reasons, Roma tends to “seek help within their own community,” said Valentina Zolotarenko, who acts as a mediator to help her people access public services.
“On television, you only see Ukrainians, but we also suffer,” said the 59-year-old Russian-born.
But “despite the bombs, I prefer to be Ukrainian Roma rather than Russian,” he added.
“It’s worse for my community.”
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)