Since the 24th of February, the whole country has united, becoming a single whole. Here, everyone supports each other, having a common idea – to defeat the Russian invaders and win the right to their own freedom. From the first day of the war, thousands of Ukrainian boys and girls joined the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Among them are the Roma, who, like everyone else, consider it their duty to defend the country from the aggressor.
Roma boys serve in the Territorial Defense of their cities and join the Armed Forces of Ukraine. They protest against the imperial regime of the russian federation and form partisan detachments. Women volunteer to help those who have lost their homes. They create shelters for refugees and come together. Russian missiles are destroying Ukrainian cities and people’s lives, but they do not have the ability to take away the unprecedented unity and irresistible desire to win their freedom. And the right to democracy in one’s own country.
Ivan Vakulenko is a Roma by origin. He is only 20. Today, he is one of those fighting on the front lines alongside Ukrainian soldiers on the country’s eastern and southern borders. The morning of February 24 was decisive for the Roma soldier – the war changed his usual way of life. A few days after the attack, the boy was conscripted into the Armed Forces. Without hesitation, quickly packing his military backpack and taking everything he needed, Ivan went to several days of military tactical exercises in one of the country’s military bases. Then there was a long and exhausting trip to the Zhytomyr and Kyiv regions. Here, in the first month of the war, a Roma soldier, together with his Ukrainian soldiers, defended the land and helped evacuate wounded soldiers and civilians.
“My Vaniusha, he is still a child, does not drink, does not smoke. He didn’t even drink a glass of beer in his life. But he’s a good kid. He is a soldier!”,— tells his father proudly about Ivan, recalling the first days of his service in the Armed Forces on the front line.
Twenty-year-old Ivan Vakulenko was born near the banks of the Dnipro River – in the city of Dnipropetrovsk. Here he grew up and studied. He entered college, later got a job at one of the local factories. He felt a longing for military service for a long time: he dreamed of joining the engineering troops of Ukraine and dedicating his life to serving the country. In the end, the war has made its own adjustments. Now the young man is performing combat missions in “hot spots” and he is one of those who are called defenders of our land in the Russia-Ukraine war.
During the three months of armed aggression, Ivan Vakulenko and his battalion changed locations several times. The guy was engaged in various affairs. He helped to load military ammunition, provisions, and medicines. He rescued the wounded soldiers and took them to a safe place. In addition to Ivan Vakulenko, dozens and hundreds of Ukrainian Roma serve in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. This fact came as a pleasant surprise to Ivan himself when he first joined the Armed Forces. His father says that no one among the fighters is divided into “own” and “alien” – only russian enemies are foreign, and Roma in the Ukrainian army are accepted as their brothers.
“Nobody cares if he is a Rom or not. There is no such thing, everyone is equal, everyone respects each other,”— says Ivan’s father. His voice is confident but anxious. The war continues, and dozens of our boys and girls die every day. Parents bury their children; the country loses the best ones. Nevertheless, the strength of the Ukrainian army on the front line does not disappear. Ivan Vakulenko, like thousands of other Ukrainian soldiers, is waiting for the end of the war with our victory. He dreams of returning home again. There his younger sister, mother and father are waiting for him. And there are many ideas and plans in an independent and democratic Ukraine.
“I want to visit my Vaniusha. He is now somewhere in one of the military units. Will they allow me to see my son?” ,— the father of the Roma defender Ivan Vakulenko asks me at the end of our conversation.
“You’ll see him soon!”. I confidently pronounce and say good-bye.