Cases 13:32 25 Apr 2023

Ukraine of many faces: how national minorities support each other during war

Crimean Tatars, Roma, Greeks, Armenians, Jews... Russia's aggression has put all citizens of Ukraine at risk, regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation. "Rubryka" shines a spotlight on how representatives of national minorities find solutions to support each other in Ukraine and abroad.

What is the problem?

"The genocide that Russia is committing against Ukrainians also extends to Crimean Tatars, Jews, Roma, etc.," Eskender Bariev, a member of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people [Mejlis is a single supreme plenipotentiary representative and executive body of the Crimean Tatar people – ed.], head of the Crimean Tatar Resource Center, says.

Russia has established a mission to eliminate anything associated with Ukraine. However, Ukraine is not solely inhabited by ethnic Ukrainians; it is a multi-ethnic state with a long-standing history. The Russian occupiers have been perpetuating violence, mutilation, abductions, and depriving of their homes all people – regardless of their ethnic background – who reside in the Ukrainian territories and consider Ukraine their homeland.

What is the solution?

The strength of Ukraine lies in unity. During the full-scale invasion of the Russian aggressor, people of all nationalities came together to oppose the common enemy and assist each other in the struggle. This material outlines how national minorities residing in Ukraine are providing mutual support and assistance to their compatriots.

How does it work?


Crimean Tatars

The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People has reported that approximately half of the abductions conducted by Russian forces during the occupation of the Kherson region and part of the Zaporizhzhia region were of indigenous people. These figures are incomplete due to the ongoing occupation of certain territories by the Russian Federation, thus preventing the full accounting of all crimes committed. While some abductees have been returned, others remain in captivity in basements or pre-trial detention centers in the temporarily occupied Crimea.

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"It is not the first time that Crimean Tatars have had to leave: because of the war, because of eviction from Crimea," Viacheslav Mysko, head of the "SHAN" NGO, says. Since the onset of the war, Mysko has been heavily involved in the welfare of the Crimean Tatars displaced to Transcarpathia. In 2014, he and his family relocated to Drohobych from occupied Crimea and started anew. As the magnitude of the invasion grew, Mysko opened his home to all Crimean Tatar acquaintances who had contacted him, some from Kharkiv, Novooleksiivka, Hostomel, and Bucha.

"We decided to create a public organization to support the Crimean Tatar population in the Zakarpattia region," the head of the NGO says. This organization provides Crimean Tatars with essential items such as housing, food kits, personal hygiene products, and clothing.

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The Crimean Tatar Volunteer Center in Odesa is also actively engaged in providing humanitarian assistance, including the supply of food and hygiene products to displaced persons, the weaving of camouflage nets, and the preparation of meals for defenders and law enforcement personnel. During the war, the center team cooked and delivered over one and a half tons of pilaf! 

Representatives of the organization have also traveled to the de-occupied zones and the hottest spot in Ukraine — Bakhmut — to help local people and defenders. 

The provision of practical assistance is of paramount importance. Nonetheless, support should not be constrained to said assistance. In this context, the "Leisure for Children and Youth of the Crimean Tatar Center" project has organized a number of activities for children of internally displaced persons. Recently, the project, in collaboration with "Planeta Kino," enabled fifty children to watch the highly anticipated cartoon "Mavka. The Forest Song".

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In conjunction with addressing the immediate needs, consideration must be given to the future of Crimea and its indigenous population. To this end, the "June 26 Initiative" was established in Ukraine last summer, providing a forum to discuss the future of Crimea and the rights of Crimean Tatars, both those who have left the occupied peninsula and those who remain under occupation. The platform's primary objective is to ensure the future of the Crimean Tatars and de-occupied Crimea. In support of this goal, the platform is actively engaged in formulating a vision that outlines the role of the Crimean Tatars in free Ukraine and safeguarding their interests.

The state remembers the Crimean Tatars too. In 2022, the Ministry of Reintegration provided 100,000 in state aid to over 70 Crimean Tatar — political prisoners of the Russian Federation. Furthermore, President Volodymyr Zelensky declared the commencement of a new custom in Ukraine in April 2023 — the official holding of Iftar during the month of Ramadan for Muslims. The President expressed his gratitude towards the Muslims of Ukraine and the entire Muslim community worldwide, who, like Ukrainians, aspire for peace and protection from evil.


According to Roma organizations, approximately 100,000 Roma have relocated from their homes, with half of them traveling to the European Union. Nevertheless, many of these individuals have returned home, and a sizeable proportion have remained within Ukraine, becoming internally displaced persons. 

Zola Kondur, Coordinator of the National Minorities and Roma Project at the Council of Europe office in Ukraine, noted: "Roma have joined forces to assist their respective communities. We need more attention to vulnerable groups from government or state authorities, local authorities."

Consequently, the ARKA Youth Agency of Roma Culture Advocacy, based in Poltava, has been providing humanitarian aid in different regions of Ukraine. To date, Roma families from Dnipro, Odesa, Mariupol, Kherson, Kryvyi Rih, and Uzhhorod have been offered necessary products and monetary assistance for evacuation

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The Zaporizhzhia organization Union of Roma Women "Voice of Romni" provides informational support for Roma affected by the war, including information on the process of obtaining IDP status, registering property damage caused by military operations, obtaining humanitarian and financial aid from international sources, the procedure for crossing the border, etc. In addition, Roma can receive legal advice for drawing up the necessary certificates and documents in the organization. The organization is also active at the international level, advocating for the rights of Ukrainians who have been forced to flee their home country and seek refuge in various European countries.

The "Chirikli" fund took charge of evacuating Roma from temporarily occupied territories and war zones. They are currently providing direct financial aid to those who evacuated. Since the beginning of the full-scale war, they have found safe ways for people to leave these areas, providing them with information and assistance when embarking abroad. Roughly six hundred families were evacuated from the country's perilous eastern regions. Additionally, "Chirikli" has supported more than twenty thousand people, offering them sustenance, advice, and temporary housing.

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The first question that arises before people in evacuation is temporary housing. The "Blaho" Charitable Foundation has established a Roma shelter in Transcarpathia, located in the premises of the Roma hotel and restaurant complex, which had been out of use for nine years but now has become helpful to those who needed a roof over their heads. The shelter in Uzhhorod can accommodate up to 200 people and provides three meals daily, medical and legal services. In addition, art therapists, psychologists, and teachers work with children there.

"It was essential to open such a place where people fleeing the war could stay. Roma from the Donetsk and Kharkiv regions, who were left completely homeless and without funds, went to this shelter and received help there," — Zola Kondur says.

Approximately two months ago, the Chirikli Foundation opened a shelter in Mukachevo, Transcarpathia. Rada Kalandia from Vuhledar works as the administrator in the shelter. As she has experienced the loss of her home and possessions, she can relate to the plight of those who seek refuge. The shelter has the capacity to house up to fifty people, providing them with necessary services and provisions. People can reside there for as long as required.


Yosyf Zisels, head of the Association of Jewish Public Organizations and Communities of Ukraine, has observed that the Jewish community responded expeditiously during times of crisis, giving rise to a plethora of infrastructural elements, groups, and centers since February 24, 2022, which have been attempting to address the various issues faced by the community.

Consequently, when the full-scale war commenced, the Association of Jewish NGOs and communities of Ukraine initiated a network of points to receive evacuated families on a short-term or long-term basis. The Association also provided financial support to those who, due to certain conditions, stayed in the occupied area. Furthermore, the Association aided Ukrainian Jews who ended up in Russia to migrate to Georgia, the Baltic countries, or return to Ukraine.

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The Jewish community of Dnipro has not elected to leave Ukraine, instead taking the initiative to open a volunteer headquarters within the Jewish cultural center "Solomonika" since the war's outset. Before the Russian invasion, the center served as a hub for socializing amongst families, and on February 24, 2022, the headquarters was transformed into a facility for the collection of humanitarian aid.

Vadym Farber, director of the Jewish Cultural Center "Solomonika," says: "On February 24, we clearly decided for ourselves that we are not going anywhere. That is, our center takes a clear position that we will not stay away. You know, the Jewish people have come to that when the enemy knocks on our door, we do not hide. We have the strength and courage to open this door and meet the enemy face to face. We are here, and even though we are a Jewish cultural center, we believe that Ukraine is our home. And everything we do here, we do for both Jews and Ukrainians. And we don't divide them by nationality."

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"Solomonika" is a multifaceted hub that provides psychological support, an art space, culinary workshops, and language improvement through its Ukrainian Gatherings project. Furthermore, its World in the Palm of Your Hand project is geared towards supporting people with hearing impairments with knitting workshops, thematic meetings, creative activities, training, and tea-time conversations in a warm and welcoming atmosphere.


"Armenians volunteer or simply stay to live in Ukraine and help the front. They see no other way for themselves than to be together until the end," Ovakim Arutiunian, executive director of the Union of Armenians of Ukraine, emphasizes.

From the first days of the war, the Armenian community has formed a humanitarian hub in Dnipro to assist those who have been displaced and to support those who have joined Ukraine's armed forces and the Territorial defense forces. The hub's members have stated: "We have been united since the war began, with some members joining the armed forces at the most dangerous frontlines, some of whom have unfortunately given their lives for the freedom and independence of Ukraine, and others volunteering to provide aid to those who have been displaced, soldiers, and to prepare meals. In this difficult time, we must remember that we stand together and will remain so until the end."

Спілки вірмен України

In the Kirovohrad region, the Union of Armenians assisted internally displaced persons by offering legal services and disseminating relevant information.

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Схожу підтримку надають і представники вірменської громади Запоріжжя. Тут допомагають переселенцям та незахищеним верствам населення — роздають хліб, харчові продукти, одяг, ліки.

"Наша спільнота завжди своїм прикладом намагалась довести, що треба об'єднуватися, об'єднуватися навколо розвитку, навколо допомоги ближньому, а зараз — і навколо нашої спільної перемоги. Разом ми — велика сила", — наголосив  президент спілки вірмен Запорізької області Рудольф Акопян.


Before the full-scale war, according to the last official population census, about 80,000 Greeks lived in the Azov region. Only in Mariupol, according to the local association, about 15,000 Greeks lived in the community.

Федерація грецьких товариств України

Oleksandra Protsenko-Pichadzhi, head of the Federation of Greek Societies of Ukraine, informed Rubryka that numerous Greeks left Ukraine after the occupation of Mariupol. To support those who settled in Greece, the Union of Greeks of Ukraine in Greece was created. Since the summer of 2022, the Union has hosted several events such as the exhibition of photos by Mariupol photographers –  "Mariupol before the War and after the War" – marches against the war and Russian aggression to demonstrate to local Greeks the presence of real witnesses of this war and to tell the truth about the invasion.

"We know that Ukraine needs our support, solidarity, and certain actions. Having passed through the hell of the blockaded Mariupol, seeing with our own eyes the death of a once flourishing city, which the Greeks founded on the site of a Cossack palanka [a palanka is an administrative-territorial unit, with its center being a fortified settlement with a small garrison of Cossacks – ed.], we experienced all the horrors of the "Russian world," which brings atrocities, death, destruction, the abolition of all democratic rights and freedoms. I believe that soon the flags of Ukraine and Greece will fly again in Mariupol and in the villages that were founded by the Greeks in the 18th century and which are currently occupied by the Moscow horde," Oleksandra Protsenko-Pichadzhi says.

Last summer, the Union and Federation organized several hospitality programs for Ukrainian children in Greek health camps. The Mariupol City Council facilitated the children's participation in the program by providing assistance in gathering the children for a complimentary vacation.

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The Association intends to reiterate its summer camps and launch a psychological rehabilitation program for the elderly from Ukraine in the upcoming summer.

More helpful solutions!

On December 13, 2022, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine [the Ukrainian parliament – ed.] adopted a new Law on National Minorities.

"The Committee worked on this draft law for more than two years. The document specifies the rights of national communities in Ukraine and guarantees their ethnic and cultural development. Accordingly, no one will be forgotten, and there will be no discrimination so that every citizen of Ukraine, regardless of ethnic origin, has the opportunity to know both the Ukrainian language and one's native language, to study in the language, to know one's culture," Taras Tarasenko, a member of the Committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on Human Rights, Deoccupation and Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories, National Minorities, and International Relations, said.

He has asserted that the current strength of Ukraine is derived from the unified support of all ethnic communities in defending Ukraine against the aggressor.

This material was created by the online publication Rubryka as part of the Ukrainian Rapid Response Fund program, implemented by IREX with the support of the US State Department. The views expressed in the material are those of Rubryka and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of IREX or the US State Department.


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