Ukraine’s long-persecuted Roma minority joins war effort

“It was his dream to defend Ukraine,” 23-year-old Angelina Debyosh says of her husband, who is fighting Russian forces in Mariupol, on the other side of Ukraine.

In her small and bare house with a sloping floor in Uzhhorod, in the war-torn country’s southwest, a gaggle of kids crowd onto a loose mattress that serves as a main piece of furniture.

Debyosh’s husband, 31-year-old Igor Kotlar, is a former taxi driver who enlisted in the Ukrainian army in 2018.

They share five young daughters and are both of a Roma background.

The road through their settlement, Radvanka, which runs next to a cement factory in the border city near Hungary and Slovakia, is pockmarked.

Houses here are visibly hand-built from cinder blocks, some with gaps in the walls, and lack gas and running water.

Municipal services, like trash removal, are absent.

Despite being persecuted and marginalised throughout Ukraine’s history, the Roma minority – an estimated 400,000 people – have contributed enthusiastically to the war effort.

In dilapidated Roma neighbourhoods like Radvanka, Ukrainian flags are often seen fastened to walls or on flag posts.Since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24, Roma churches have collected food and medicine, and in western Ukraine, Roma volunteers have provided shelter to Roma and non-Roma evacuees.

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