"Our mission is to assist in the reformation of Ukraine consistent with European standards, as well as to introduce democratic values and develop civil society in Ukraine."

From the Statute of
the Center for European Initiatives

24.05.11 16:09

Under the Mask of Stereotypes about Minorities – One Story of Millions


The problem of xenophobia, discrimination and intolerant attitude towards representatives of national minorities in Ukraine is still painful. Having become independent, Ukraine proclaimed the state protection of all citizens on the background of equality as one of its priorities that is supported by the chain of articles of the Constitution of Ukraine, law of Ukraine “About national Minorities”, and from 1 January 1998 Ukraine ratified Framework Convention on Protection of National Minorities that came into force on 1 May 1998.

On the state level, according to the national and international legislation rights and freedoms of the national minorities have to be recognized and protected. Nevertheless, that we have on the paper cannot change the attitude of the citizens towards representatives of different national minorities. And some national minorities is very hard to integrate into Ukrainian society due to their nature, traditions, culture, and religion.

The Roma problem stays actual in all regions of Ukraine, nowadays. Roma have been living in Ukraine for 500 years. According to the census of 2001 there are 48 000 Roma officially registered in Ukraine. But for the last years the Roma population has increased considerably due to forced return of the “illegal” immigrants from Western Europe. Such situation provoked discontent from the side of local communities. Especially it concerns Zacarpatia region.

Roma differ from other people, first of all, by the isolation of their communities from other local groups. In Sumy they live on the suburbs of the city, hereby they are not integrated with the rest of society. Notwithstanding that Roma have been living settled in Sumy for a long time, citizens treat them still with suspicion. As a result, discrimination of Roma is widely spread in employment, education, healthcare, trials. For the majority of citizens Roma are associated with market sellers, fortune-tellers, beggars and cheaters.

During my interview with the representatives of Roma community in Sumy, we brought up the topic of Roma discrimination in Ukraine. One of the men commented that it is not only the guilty of the local community they (Roma) also realize that an equal responsibility for being integrated lies on them. “A huge part of Roma lives on the fringes of civilization as a lot of them still live as nomads moving from one place to another. They create the wall of stereotypes about Roma for other people. But those who settled down, they want to have their children educated and integrated into the society.”

Among Roma there are those who made a lot for the community, Ukraine and by their actions they break the wall of stereotypes and generalization about Roma.

A striking example of such Roma people is the Demydenko family. Farther of the family, Yurij Demedenko, is the President of the Tae Kwan Do Federation Sumy Department, the judge of national level. Additionally, he is also actively engaged in public activities, ran for Sumy city Council. Being a trainer and as a President of the Tae Kwan Do Federation in Sumy, he helps youth achieve success in the world of sport.

His daughters Rada and Rubina Demydenky have big awards in the world of sport. The girls first started to go in for circus studio, and after they decided to turn in to the world of sport. Karate was at first. Rada became the regional champion in Karate in 2 months, and Rubina repeated her elder sister’s success in 6 months.

As karate is not the Olympic type of sport, the girls made up their mind to go in for tae kwan do. Today Rada is four times champion of Ukraine, five times owner of the Cup of Ukraine, took 5th place on the championship of Europe in 2004. Rubina is five times champion of Ukraine, 2 dan, black belt. From 2000 to 2006 the girls were a part of Ukrainian national Olympic team in tae kwan do. At their 26 and 23, Rada and Rubina are masters of sport, trainers and instructors in tae kwan do.

During the interview I asked if there is a difference for youth who come for girls’ trainings which nationality they are. Their farther replied that now there is no difference, parents and children are interested in the professionalism of trainers.

But was it always like this … When the girls started their sport career they were treated with disrespect and not serious, as their farther commented “look, gypsies arrived”. Nobody helped them, though their farther asked for it more than once when the girls needed to go for competitions to represent either region or country. To have an opportunity to send Rada nd Rubina for competitions he had to sell his car. The girls received support only when they represented National Olympic team. Yurij Demydenko always has with him all copies of certificates, diplomas, and all necessary papers proving girls’ achievements.

Such achievements for Roma girls are unusual. First of all, to go in for martial arts for girls in Roma culture is a shame. As the Demydenko family’s friend, who was present at the interview, explained, “It is forbidden for Roma girls to have their legs opened, only long skirts, that is why parents do not think about putting their daughters into such sport. And here they dared, and were not afraid. They were laughed 100 % at the beginning …”.

The girls want to open their Tae Kwan Do school for Roma and Ukrainian youth. They turned to the head of the school where they studied to give them the gym for trainings with youth. This school is situated in that part of the city where the girls and most of Roma live. But they were denied. From Yuriy Demydenko’s words, the head of the school worried that after Rada and Rubina start to train children in the school there will be “gypsies hanging around all the time” and it can bring to the breach of order. So, the girls train on the other end of the city and they have a lot of students.

Thanks to their achievements, today they are respected among sportsmen and trainers not only in Ukraine but abroad. Though they still have to show all their awards, prove and wait that finally somebody will pay attention to the talented sportswomen.