“We are Living Day-to-Day.” How the Pandemic Widens Social Divide and Affects Roma Communities


Today, all people experience the adverse effects of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, we were aware of social divide, masterminding how to close it. However, in these difficult circumstances, people go in self-preservation mode, saving themselves and their families. Meanwhile, as long as we hide from “other people’s problems”, the inequality gap only widens.

Yet, we all are human beings and each of us shall have the right to be protected.

What Problems Did Roma Communities Experience During the Pandemic?

While almost all groups of population experience the negative impact of the pandemic, it has hit those who were already in a vulnerable position the hardest.

(photo is taken from the page of Myroslav Horvat)

The present day challenges lie in that how to protect the most vulnerable, those at risk of being forgotten in a moment of global chaos.

Roma communities are one of them.

(photo is taken from the page of Myroslav Horvat)

According to a study of impact of COVID-19 on Roma communities in Ukraine, conducted by VoxPopuli Agency commissioned by the International Renaissance Foundation in April 2020, the unemployment rate grew significantly and Roma families experienced the substantial loss of income.

Almost 70% of the Roma, who are traditionally employed in trade, service industries and seasonal work, both in Ukraine and abroad, have lost their jobs in the last month. Those who work in state institutions (22%), service industry (17%), and are engaged in entrepreneurial activities (10%) managed to keep their jobs.

In addition to that, 61% of respondents do not have money for basic needs, and 53% said their access to basic foodstuffs has deteriorated, i.e. in fact to everything except water.

One of the respondents captured it very well when asked to describe the situation of Roma families in quarantine:

“We all, Roma, are living and have been always living from our daily “prey”. We earned – we ate. We never had any savings so that we can pause for a while and take time for reflections. Neither in the city of Zolotonosha, nor in any other city, which I have just mentioned, the Roma families have any single bank deposit. No bank deposit at all. No hryvnia, no thousand hryvnia savings. Roma have no savings. We keep living day-to-day. Earned – spent.”

Sergiy Ponomaryov, Roma Program Director of the International Renaissance Foundation, said:

“Humanitarian aid received by Roma communities through the efforts of international and non-governmental organizations and local self-government bodies (although the latter appears to have been rather scarсe) is very important and useful. However, according to the study, there is a much greater need for consistent action by the state to restore employment, opportunities for earnings and access to education. Related government programs and action plans should be as inclusive as possible and take into account the changes in the situation and needs of Roma communities caused by the coronavirus.”

Roma communities comply with quarantine requirements and respond to pandemic challenges

Despite all the constrains, Roma communities do not withdraw from the problem and join the universal efforts in fighting the spread of the pandemic, while taking care of their own communities.

Today, Roma, like all of us, take care of their families, try to comply with quarantine restrictions and use means of individual protection. However, it is more difficult for them to comply with all the above than it may seem.

(photo from Artem Lano’s page)

99.8% of Roma are aware of quarantine restrictions introduced in Ukraine, and 88% of respondents told they are concerned about the spread of coronavirus. To address this target audience, short videos were produced to talk about safety rules in Romani language (follow the link)


Most respondents (99.5%) comply fairly well with the coronavirus quarantine requirements, whereas three out of four respondents (76%) follow 2-4 corona prevention practices. The most commonly used methods of corona prevention are wearing masks in public (91%) and hand hygiene (80%).

Lack of money was quoted by 58% of Roma families as the main reason why they have no masks at all, or can afford to buy them only to some extent.

At the time of the interview, only in two oblasts in Ukraine cases of coronavirus among Roma population were recorded, experts say.

In the future, the main issue to watch for in terms of quarantine compliance is that people might break those rules due to the need to take care of their families looking for means of subsistence.

Stop Pretending They Don’t Exist

In quarantine, the unemployment has risen and the access to basic food has declined. Roma say that they want to work, also as officially registered employees, however, such opportunities in quarantine are even more restricted than before.

That being said, the risk to have even worse attitude of the public to Roma communities is even higher now, as the coronavirus continues to spread. In the survey, 12% of respondents noted the growing aggression and discrimination they experience on a daily basis. Moreover, even more dramatic cases were reported, such as the Roma expulsion from Ivano-Frankivsk and attacks on Roma settlement in Kyiv.

So now is the time to stop pretending that such vulnerable groups as Roma, or homeless people, or people with mental disabilities do not exist, or to make them ‘scapegoats’ now as the quarantine continues.

Our human nature is manifested through our ability to help the most vulnerable. The present day reality isn’t a good time for animosity. Actually, this is a good time for working together with each other.

 (photo from Artem Lano’s page)

That is why the Renaissance Foundation has supported many Roma organizations, in the framework of the humanitarian initiative “Humanity and Mutual Assistance”.

Today, such organizations are engaged in supplying food and disinfectants to residents of Roma settlements, sewing protective masks, and distribution of basic hygiene kits for the most vulnerable members of Roma communities.

NGO “Roma of Ukraine Ternipe”

Transcarpathian Regional Roma Association “Romani Cherhen” (Roma Star)

Transcarpahian Regional Charitable Fund “Blago” (Wellbeing)

NGO “Pidvynogradivske Romano Lachipo”

NGO “Gypsy National Society ‘ROMEN”International Charitable Fund “Chirikli”

(photo from Artem Lano’s page)

We understand how difficult it is to show humanity and kindness during this turbulent time. However, we know that each of us has faced injustice and despair at least once in a lifetime. Nevertheless, when there is at least one person who is able to support you, it becomes much easier for you going through hardships.

We call upon humanity, kindness and small deeds that can save other people’s lives.

*Full text of the study – “Needs and Consequences in Roma Communities Arising in View of Spread of Coronavirus Disease in Ukraine”.

Main image: photo from the page of Myroslav Horvat

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