DiasporaStories of resistance

“Never again”: Roma and Ukrainian activists reflect on war traumas

In July, Roma and Ukrainian activists gathered around the German city of Heidelberg within the project “Rethinking “Never Again” to reflect together on the topic of war, war traumas, and rethink collective and personal history in the war against Russian aggression in Ukraine.

“Youth Agency for the Advocacy of Roma Culture “ARCA” organized a five-day retreat event in a picturesque location in order to talk together about the traumatic experience of a lost home, war, pain and finding one’s own senses in the modern context in which we live. The main topic of the joint stay was documentary theatre, which united participants from different parts of Ukraine and forced them to live experiences, gaining new senses of history and collective traumas of a generation.

The project “Rethinking “Never Again” was the beginning of a long-term initiative, the goal of which is to establish a mutual dialogue and support young people who were forced to leave their homes due to Russian aggression in Ukraine, but despite this, they do not cease to be an active part of society in Ukraine or beyond its borders. As Tetiana Storozhko, the co-founder of “Youth Agency for the Advocacy of Roma Culture “ARCA”, researcher of Roma culture, activist, and human rights defender says, the project will have two stages, combining documentary theatre, activism and dialogue, and most importantly — understanding that everyone who experiences war today has the right to be weak, but at the same time is a strong link of resistance and activism.

The first stage of the project created a five-day meeting where the history of displaced women from different parts of Ukraine – Donetsk region, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Chernihiv, Lviv, Uzhhorod, Drohobych, Truskavets, as well as other European cities, were united by a common thread. The pain that the participants experienced together became, in a certain sense, internal rehabilitation and important narratives for joint conversation.

On the first day of the project, the head of “Youth Agency for the Advocacy of Roma Culture “ARCA”, Volodymyr Yakovenko, congratulated all participants online from his native Kremenchuk, adding that the unity of Roma and Ukrainian activists during the struggle shows the world our readiness to resist, and therefore openness and inclusion in the global processes of modern history.

A meeting and frank conversation with a military psychologist, therapeutic classes of various kinds, joint evenings and discussion of new ideas regarding the support of Roma and Ukrainian youth by German partners – all this became an important part of the first stage of the project “Rethinking “Never Again”.

“Today there is a problem that many Roma young people, as a result of the war in Ukraine, left their hometowns and were forced to go abroad. As a result, there is almost no space left for them to exchange ideas and common interests. Our task is to create this convenient and comfortable space for mutual exchange and communication. In a certain sense, to build an international network community, where our youngsters could realize themselves and keep inseparable connection with their culture, home, and history. After all, this event is a part of our big and global strategy”, says Natali Tomenko, the artist, Roma activist, and co-founder of “Youth Agency for the Advocacy of Roma Culture “ARCA”.

During the five-day meeting in Germany, all the participants of the project together with the organizers had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the technique and mechanism of the documentary theatre, which managed to create a safe environment, and therefore, using the example of theatrical exercises and classes, it is better to deal with internal traumas, to crystallize the mosaic of stories and experiences that would like be poured into the symbiosis of human feelings.

Nataliia Vainylovych, the coordinator of the playback theatre “Reflections”, organizer of the art-playback festival “Together”, trainer, documentary director and the one who recorded the thoughts and stories of the participants for all five days, organically combining them with master classes, workshops and art therapy, says that documentary theatre is primarily an opportunity to discover something in yourself that often remains unspoken. Techniques and exercises of documentary theatre provide an opportunity to better understand oneself and the processes that take place in the context of social changes.

The participants not only told stories, but tried to play them as truthfully as possible. They transformed into actors wearing ordinary clothes instead of theatrical costumes. And in place of the decorations – emotions, feelings, a piece of paper, a written letter to the native city, memories and a lot of pain. The story of each of the participants came to life and became visible. Colours, moods, and characters appeared in it. A house in Chernihiv, a native yard somewhere in Donetsk region, evacuation from Okhtyrka, memories of Kremenchuk, bombed-out windows of their parent’s house somewhere near Kyiv, the desire to see their native land – all these memories returned each of the girls metaphysically to the native city, house, street. They acquired new senses and breathed life into places where it seemed that it could not exist. The final line of the five-day documentary project was the discussion of the lived experience, which provided an understanding of future guidelines for each of the team members. And then will be a joint screening and presentation of the documentary performance in Berlin soon. And for now, each of the project participants, returning to their cities (temporary or permanent), brought with them a little more inner strength. And the desire to move on, even if the war continues.

Author: Marianna Maksymova

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