Stories of resistance

“I realized that I can be useful”, — Roma activist Raisa Rostash about volunteering in Poland

At dawn on the 24th of February, citizens of Ukraine found themselves in equally terrible conditions. The war did not miss a single home, and the cannons did not choose buildings by nationality. That morning, Roma volunteer Raisa Rostash woke up in her flat in Kyiv to the sound of explosions and fighter jets. The woman shared with us her personal story and the difficulties she had to deal with.

Before the start of the full-scale war, Raisa, together with other Roma of Ukraine, joined in collecting funds for the needy, spread information and took part in initiatives by all means. Today, she continues volunteering, but thousands of kilometres from her home. The woman lived in Kyiv with her husband and 5 children; the youngest is now 2 years old. The first hours of the war scared the kids and made the woman very nervous, the feeling of panic and confusion will not leave her for a long time.

“You see, the information space prepared us for provocations and a possible attack, but we didn’t believe, we hoped. The first thing I did when I heard the explosions was to take the children to the bathroom and cover them with blankets. Understanding what was happening to us was terrible,” – Raisa recalls the events of the 24th of February with nervousness in her voice.

The woman shares memories of how she tried dozens of times to call a taxi, but of course, all attempts were in vain. The phone was busy day and night. Kyiv was subjected to numerous shelling, during of air-raid sirens the family went down to the bomb shelters, and the first time they saved themselves. Later, a close friend of the family came and took Raisa and the children to a more remote area, where they stayed for several more weeks. On the 10th of March, the whole family left for Lviv. The family got to the city by train, it was seen as the most practical and safe solution. Free evacuation trips were provided almost every day, but there were multi-thousand queues. Because of this, the trip took 17 hours, instead of the usual 10. The train went for 1-2 hours and stopped, then started again, the woman admits that the travel seemed endless.

“The travel was hellish. Children were constantly lost in the queues, not all of them could be found. This scenario scared me the most, because I had 5 minors with me. Suitcases, small children on the floor, crowds in the vestibule, queues, volunteers, crying and hopelessness are still in front of my eyes.”

It became a little easier in Lviv; the family found and rented housing. Living with 5 children, the Rostash even took in other Roma who needed accommodation. Gradually adapting, Raisa continued to volunteer and provide informational assistance to others with relocation and housing search. Another month passed, as the situation in the country was still unstable, the woman and her children left for Poland. She was assisted to evacuate by Olena Kuzmenko, a Roma volunteer who organized bus trips “Ukraine – Italy”.

“It was morally difficult; most of the Roma I travelled with did not know a foreign language. Some did not even leave their city. So they were helpless during the evacuation. Then I realized that I could be useful to others and started to help as much as I could.”

In Poland, Raisa met a station worker who turned out to be Ukrainian. With her help, the Roma were able to find housing or places to spend the night. This was necessary because at the peak of the influx of refugees, the search for accommodation took days or even weeks. Working with other Roma, Ukrainian, and Polish volunteers, Raisa managed to accommodate about a hundred families, most of them Roma. The woman lived in a Polish dormitory together with other refugees.

“Not all refugees wanted to live with the Roma, so there were occasional conflict situations. Over time, everyone got used to it and the quarrels stopped.”

Recently, Raisa and her children moved to Amsterdam, where she was invited by friends. So far, she has already been contacted by two Roma families who also want to move to the Netherlands and need assistance with documents, housing and employment. The woman plans to continue volunteering from there, because the war that teaches us humanity is still going on.

Read more about Olena Kuzmenko’s volunteering at the link.

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