Thousands of Roma in Ukraine Elect Their Local Representatives


Illustration of three Roma that was used in a voter education campaign.

Yuliia Kondur, president of Roma Women’s Fund “Chiricli” in Ukraine and a Roma herself, has worked for almost 20 years to strengthen the engagement of Roma people in electoral and political processes.

“It is important for the Roma to take part in political and public life because if we withdraw from politics and do not vote, our fate will be decided for us."

Kondur believes that the realization of rights of historically excluded groups such as the Roma is crucial to the democratic development of Ukraine and the well-being of every citizen.

Traditionally, the inclusion of Roma people in political processes has been challenging due to negative stereotypes, stigma and biases. In addition, there is no accurate data on Ukraine’s Roma population. According to the 2001 census, 47,917 people indicated their nationality as Roma. However, Chiricli estimates that more than 500,000 Roma live in Ukraine. Also, many Roma lack awareness of their electoral rights.

Ahead of the 2020 local elections, together with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and with support from the United States Agency for International Development, Global Affairs Canada and UK aid, Chiricli implemented an awareness-raising and informational campaign for Roma people. IFES provided a subaward to Chiricli to support their awareness-raising efforts and educate Roma about new electoral legislation, procedures and voting rules. Chiricli built a pool of 30 Roma mediators to promote greater access to social, political and medical rights for Roma in Ukraine. Through Viber, Facebook groups and phone calls, the mediators shared information and infographics on the new electoral procedures and safety measures on Election Day and designed a video featuring positive stories of Roma electoral participation. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chiricli adjusted their campaign to safely contact as many people as possible.

“The pandemic has been a challenge for us because we are used to communicating eye-to-eye, our traditions of communication unite us as a community. Reaching people online was difficult and unusual, there were often connection problems. Therefore, it was necessary to go to the houses and work in person, adhering to means of protection during a pandemic,” said Kondur.

Recent follow-up surveys conducted among Roma after the election period demonstrated the effectiveness of Chiricli’s campaigns. According to surveys conducted by Chiricli, 99 percent of respondents said that its voter education campaign positively influenced their motivation to vote in local elections. The campaign reached 4,851 Roma in seven regions of Ukraine, namely in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kyiv, Kirovohrad, Kharkiv and Odesa oblasts, and 1,345 voted in local elections. Based on the success of their campaigns, Chiricli is continuing to work for broader empowerment of historically excluded groups in Ukraine.

Published on June 8, 2021.

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