ActivismStories of resistance

Activism during the war: how Ukrainians and Roma stand together in order to win

At dawn, on the 24th of February, Russian troops crossed the state border of Ukraine. After  occupying the surrounding areas, the invaders moved in the direction of Okhtyrka located in the Sumy region. Fierce fighting lasted more than a month, there was intensive shelling of territory from Grad rocket launchers, but the belief in victory permeated through fear and was stronger.

On the eve of the invasion, some Ukrainians anticipated danger and morally got ready for the coming struggle. Pavlo Ihnatchenko is a leader of the youth movement in Okhtyrka, activist and musician. The boy says that he decided to stay at home shortly before the war. Today, together with local youth, he takes an active part in rebuilding the city, implementing useful projects and helping the army.

Flag on the central square

The first day of the war for Paul’s family was blurry. The air raid siren changed the next one; they managed to get out of the bomb shelter only in the evening, when the continuous fighting had subsided. On the way to their parents’ house, the couple decided to make sure that the city survived.

“My wife and I went to the central square. We wanted to make sure that the Ukrainian flag was in place. The blue and yellow flag was waving as before, and it was an important sign for us,” Pavlo recalls excitedly about the events of that day. All the time of the bombing, my thoughts were only on the safety of my family. Today, the life of his wife and child is no longer in danger, but in the stone bomb shelter it was impossible to get rid of anxiety”.

First casualties, aerial attacks and inability to leave the city

The next morning, the family woke up to the sound of explosions. During the day, the housing estate, the military unit and kindergartens were destroyed. The first casualties appeared, including children. For a time, the family was in a self-contained shelter, constantly watching the news channels. At the same time, the invaders tried to surround the city. Okhtyrka suffered too much destruction.

It was getting more dangerous to stay every minute. On the 4th of March, Okhtyrka was included in the list of destinations that needed corridors. However, the shelling did not stop; on the 5th of March in the evening it became known about the capture of civilians by enemy troops. Green corridors did not work. In some places, buses ran at their own risk.

“It was impossible to predict the course of events, so on the 8th of March, his wife and child left the city by one of the buses,” said the activist. Pavlo recalls that he did not even think of leaving Okhtyrka. The decision to stay was final.”

Youth resistance movement

Many local young people joined the territorial defence or the armed forces, while others quickly retrained as volunteers. Shortage of products, lack of resources, household and material needs – problems in the combat zone, with which public figures and volunteers began to work.

We help with fundraising, purchasing products, things for household and military needs. The other day, together with the Roma Youth Organisation “ARCA” and the local youth community, we have managed to buy a car for soldiers from the 91st Okhtyrka OSR (91st Separate Okhtyrka Operational Support Regiment – ed.),” – says Pavlo with joy in his voice. This purchase is significant for the local military, now the transport is already used in the regiment.

Ideas have no nationality

While meeting Roma activist Tatiana, Pavlo realised that they had common thoughts and desires to develop their hometown. Since then, the boy’s cooperation with the Roma has begun.

“I have never split people into Roma and non-Roma, I found myself in street culture and it is a part of me. It doesn’t matter to me what ethnicity a person is, if he or she shares my views and values and if he or she is not a ‘moskal’ (Muscovite),” – the activist expresses a confident position.

Another joint project with “Arca” was a merch called “Hero City”. Local artists and activists joined the initiative. The idea came about by accident, after viewing images on the web. One familiar artist embodied a common idea in life, so the design of the future merch was born. Fellows having experience in the field of clothing production and Arca activists later joined the initiative.

We did not want to make the project local, but we planned to encourage acquaintances and friends. The T-shirts have the inscription: “Hero City”. The hyphen is deliberately omitted so that everyone can interpret the words as they see fit,” – says Pavlo with inspiration. White T-shirts with a picture of a bottle with a Molotov cocktail in a hand symbolise the struggle of each Ukrainian in this war.

Music is a weapon at the level of feelings

It includes 16 tracks from authors, almost unfamiliar, but connected by a common goal. The musician together with the music community “Osoznaniie” (“Awareness”) presented the composition “Okhtyrka”, which is dedicated to the Ukrainian hero city. All funds withdrawn from the sale of the compilation were used to purchase necessities for the army.

Pavlo Ignatchenko during the creative process

“I began to work on the track in the bomb shelter, while listening to the sounds of shells. Now the collection is publicly available, it was also published by a British resource.” The musician says that he had a laptop and some equipment in the shelter. The creation of the composition took several days of hard work with a break on monitoring the latest news”.

(O)SOZNANIE · Pavlo Poputalo – Okhtyrka
(O)SOZNANIE · Pavlo Poputalo – Okhtyrka


Another collection was published, which Paul was invited to join by authors from Sloviansk. This is not the musician’s hometown, but he is happy that his work can help others. You can listen to the track by following the link.


Author: Ruslana Polianska

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *