Voices of the victims

Search

Ukraine

Mikhail Tyaglyy

According to the Soviet census of 1939, of the 88,242 Roma living in the Soviet Union, 10,443 lived in Ukraine (0.03 per cent of the total population of the Ukrainian SSR). Taking into account the 2,064 Roma in Crimea and several thousand in each of the former Polish and Romanian territories incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1939–1940, the total Romani population in Ukraine exceeded 20,000 persons by mid-1941.

However, because many Roma were itinerant traders and some identified themselves as Ukrainians or Russians rather than Roma, the actual figure may have been much larger. While the percentage of well-educated Roma was small, the majority of sedentary Roma occupied lower social positions, working as artisans, blacksmiths, shift and industrial workers. A small number of Roma settled on the collective farms created by the Soviet authorities in the 1930s.

Division of Ukraine under German Occupation

After the German occupation, Ukraine was divided into several units under different rule. The larger part, east of the Dnieper river, remained under the control of the Wehrmacht. The era to the west of the Dnieper was under the civil administration of the Reichskommissariat Ukraine (RKU) comprising six general districts (Generalbezirke). The District of Galicia (a province of Western Ukraine) became part of the ‘General Government’ created by the Germans on Polish territory in 1939. The south-western part of pre-war Ukraine was occupied by Romania in 1941. Situated between the Dniester and Bug rivers, this area constituted the so-called Transnistria Governorate. The remaining smaller area, occupied by Hungary, was Transcarpathia.

‘To Treat Gypsies the Same Way as the Jews’

In the German-occupied areas, the first wave of murders, in which the Wehrmacht and SS police units killed itinerant Roma traders they encountered, occurred in autumn-winter 1941. The Kyiv Roma in Babyn Yar were particularly badly affected. From spring 1942 on, all Roma in RKU were singled out for separate registration, and an order ‘to treat Gypsies the same way as the Jews’ was signed by the RKU leadership. Like Jews, Roma were excluded from social, labour and health care legislation. However, while the civil authorities of the RKU were still deciding on further steps, at the local level the Security Police-SD units and other security formations (formally attached to the civil administrations but actually subordinated to the higher SS police leadership) murdered Roma in almost every locality, regardless of their social profile. This was the second wave of murders. Roma were not deported to the death camps but instead were shot on the spot in the settlements where they lived

Transnistria and Transcarpathia

In Romanian-controlled Transnistria, many local Roma as well as Roma deported to Transnistria in 1942 from Romania, Bessarabia and Bukovina died of starvation, cold and disease. The actual number of Roma who perished in the isolated camps for Roma in Transcarpathia or those who were deported to their deaths to Hungary’s internal and/or German concentration camps remains unknown.

How Many Were Killed?

Owing to the absence of reliable figures for each of the provinces under occupation, it is difficult to know how many were killed. According to present-day estimates, more than 20,000 Roma perished within current Ukrainian borders during the war, although half of these were Roma deported to Ukraine from Romania. Nonetheless, even this estimate is tentative, for it is based solely on documented instances of murder.

Little Attention to the Roma Genocide

In 2004, the Ukrainian parliament introduced an ‘International Day of the Roma Holocaust’ (sic!), thus creating the basis for commemorating the Roma genocide. However, the measures prescribed by this law largely remained on paper. There were no Soviet or post-Soviet monographs devoted to a historical investigation of the fate of Roma. The erroneous notion prevailed that Roma had been killed on a mass scale because they were considered to be ‘asocial elements’, an opinion that implied that the guilt lay with the victims. Current history textbooks mention the Roma genocide only briefly and do not emphasise the racial nature of Nazi policy. The fate of Roma is externalised and tends to be regarded as a part of general, rather than specifically Ukrainian, history.

Almost all of the few monuments to the murdered Roma that do exist were erected on the initiative of NGOs, while the role of the state has been limited to granting permission and taking part in dedication ceremonies.