Activism

“I felt guilty for being safe”: public figure Anzhelika Bielova

Anzhelika Bielova is a public figure, the founder of the NGO “Voice of Romni” and the mother of a three-year-old daughter. After the beginning of full-scale aggression, she, like millions of women, was in a situation of choice and inability to do anything. The decision to leave was not easy, as well as adapting to new living conditions, struggle with feeling guilty.

Together with the Roma activist Anzhelika Bielova, we tried to find out how Anzhelika was able to direct her emotions to work and what difficulties the Roma face in the conditions of war.

Anzhelika, please tell us about the events of the 24th of February. Where were you and your family when the war began?

On the eve of the events, Sofia and I (Anzhelika’s daughter, ed.) were in the hospital for treatment. We were released home on the afternoon of the 23d of February. Then an instinct awoke inside me that I still can’t explain: I started packing a bug-out bag, went to the mall and bought groceries, canned food, and pasta. People looked at me like I was an alien (smiles). We returned home helpless. And I fell fast asleep. The next day, my husband was supposed to deliver the generator to the boys of the anti-terrorist operation, but when I woke up he said that the war had begun, – Anzhelika recalls the events of that hellish morning. The girl was so tired that she did not wake up even from loud explosions and the sounds of the fighter jet.

Was the decision to leave the country made quickly? How difficult it was for you, because you have a child to take care of. At the same time, a man you also worry about.

Kostia said that a fighter jet had flown over our house and he did not want his wife and daughter to see all this horror. Of course, right after that we started contacting acquaintances. A common decision was made to leave as soon as possible, and my friend Oleksandra Koriak went with me. It was scary to drive; the trip to Lviv lasted 2 days. We did not know what would happen and where they would shoot – it was unbearable. We had to cross the border on foot, and I persuaded my husband to go with us. Children’s documents from the hospital allowed him to leave, but he refused to even try. Today my husband is volunteering, helping to buy ammunition, uniforms for our defenders, – Anzhelika excitedly recounts her memories. She and her husband will not see each other for another 3 long months.

Where are you now? I know that you continue to help refugees. Please tell us more about your projects.

Now my friend and my family are in Hungary renting a house. For the first time we lived with colleagues, moved from place to place. My seven-year-old niece started having problems due to explosions and anxieties, so my family joined us. When I was here, I felt guilty for being safe. Therefore, the first thing I did was to send my application to a German foundation. We started providing humanitarian aid in Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv and partly Kherson regions. More than 1,000 people received assistance under the project. We also managed to buy 10 bulletproof vests and helmets for the Armed Forces. Here, acquaintances offered to organise a charity evening, where we also raised more than 110,000 hryvnias for bulletproof vests and tourniquets for defenders. Then we created a project and received funding to help Roma who were forced to move around Ukraine, – says Anzhelika. The girl says that she is very grateful to her colleagues who assisted to implement the initiatives on-site.

Do Roma girls turn to you? If so, what are the most common questions / needs?

First of all, these are the questions of financial aid, evacuation and housing. It is difficult to find an apartment now; I was called by the social services of Zaporizhzhia with a request to help place our people. There are no places for anyone. That’s why I’m planning a big project to open a shelter, but now I’m considering all the risks. As part of the above-mentioned project, 34 people were evacuated from Zaporizhzhia to Germany. Oleksandra and I accompanied people from the border to the final stage, – the girl says with a certain joy in her voice. Dozens of children and women were safe thanks to the project.

Assistance is also needed on the home-front now. In Zaporizhzhia, Roma girls volunteered, they even delivered food to the military. Tell us about volunteering today.

Yes, our girls prepared food and handed it over to the territorial defence in the city. It was a personal initiative at the beginning of all events, and may continue to this day. There are also entrepreneurs in Zaporizhzhia who receive migrants and refugees for free at their hotel. There is a restaurant on site that serves daily meals.

Have you faced the situations in which today Roma girls cannot leave their homes due to family prejudices? Is the patriarchal Roma society changing under the influence of events, or vice versa?

The lion’s share of the problem is that most Roma girls are not socialised. They grow up in “greenhouse” conditions, are not trained to be independent and are very dependent on their families and husbands. Among the evacuees was only one young girl with two children, but she was unaccompanied. Others went with their mothers and aunts. There were no unaccompanied girls at all. I grew up in a mixed family, but I was not allowed to go out alone for a long time. I can remember how scary it was to go alone for the first time. In my environment, I know Roma whose families allowed them to study in European institutions. Now they are socialised – find a job, help families, live separately. It is difficult for those who are under pressure from patriarchal upbringing, and today’s events are proof of that. The girls think that “not leaving the family” is their personal decision, but their parents do nothing in order to keep them safe. Second, they don’t even have the skills. They will not be able to arrange their lives without their parents. It is extremely important to teach your children independence and let them go.

How can girls better deal with psychological barriers? Most of them face difficulties of various kinds both abroad and in Ukraine.

It is necessary to do even if it is very difficult. If you are in another country, you cannot communicate – do not hide yourself, do not sit at home, try to go out and look for new contacts. We are migrants, but we need to adapt and enter the society around us. Many Ukrainians are now organizing public events on social networks, where they post news about various events in support of Ukrainians, events in support of Ukrainians who have been forced to leave their countries, opportunities for mothers with children and for young people. We are migrants, but now we need to take care of our psychological state, enter the society that surrounds us and build our lives in this difficult time. Roma girls need to remember that when you interact with other people, you do not lose your national identity, you do not assimilate, you socialize.

 

Interviewer: Ruslana Polianska

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