By Laura McKillip Wood
The war has affected all citizens of Ukraine, even those on the fringes of society.
In Ukraine, there officially is a population of about 40,000 Roma people—often derogatorily referred to as “Gypsies” in English—but some suggest there could be upwards of 400,000. The Roma people have traditionally been seen as outsiders and they live nomadic lives; Ukrainians often avoid them and are suspicious of their intentions.
The Roma people sometimes are targets of discrimination and violence, and are denied services available to other Ukrainians; Roma children sometimes do not attend school. The tension between Ukrainians and the Roma people separates them, exacerbating the stereotypes and fear between the groups.
In conjunction with prominent Ukrainian and American organizations and ministries, Christians in southeastern Ukraine have been working to create a Bible translation in several of the Romani languages; these groups have started ministries with the Roma over the last 20 years.
Maxim* is a Ukrainian pastor who has worked as the project manager of the translation project since 2016. Before the war, he and his administrative assistant worked together to organize the translation and pastor the people within the ministry. Several Roma churches across Ukraine and their Roma pastors also aid in translation.
“There is a significant church presence among Roma communities, led by Roma themselves,” says Joe, an American who is working on the project. “Maxim and I have always felt welcome in the Roma church communities we’ve visited. . . . They are grateful for the chance to have Scripture in their language and [they] are wonderful hosts.”
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has impacted the Roma, of course. Some have evacuated to safer areas in western Ukraine or crossed the border into Poland and other eastern European countries, but most are unable to leave as they lack the social contacts, funds, or documentation to do so. Many are illiterate. Those who cannot leave either stay close to the affected areas or flee to towns just beyond the fighting.
Joe says the translators work with a church that has filled their sanctuary with refugees. “That’s not an isolated example.” Joe says he has heard stories of discrimination of Roma people within Ukraine; at times they have been denied humanitarian aid and additional help that others have accessed.
“I can’t say how that goes for those who do manage to cross the border into neighboring countries,” he says, “but I suspect they receive . . . lesser treatment in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and other countries compared to their ethnically Ukrainian neighbors who’ve fled there as well.”
Maxim has evacuated from southeastern Ukraine to the trans-Carpathian region, where he and his family now live as refugees. From there, he helps pastors, refugees, and ministries and works with non-Christian Roma people in all areas of Ukraine. He continues to find ways to reach out to the Roma people, even during this difficult and dangerous time.
Of course, Maxim hopes to return to his hometown and resume his ministry with the Roma people there. He hopes those who could not leave are surviving well and are finding safety, and he prays for their continued spiritual growth.
If you are interested in providing humanitarian aid or in learning more about the work of ministries in Ukraine during this war, click on one of the following links:
CMF International provides medical ministry and humanitarian aid to refugees.
Team Expansion is coordinating humanitarian efforts in eastern Europe and within Ukraine.
Proem Ministries is welcoming, sheltering, and feeding refugees from Ukraine as they arrive in Poland.
Love for Ukrainians provides humanitarian aid and relief for those displaced and impacted by the war in Ukraine.
*All names have been changed at the request of the American organization that is working on translation projects in the region.
Laura McKillip Wood, former missionary to Ukraine, lives in Papillion, Nebraska, and writes about missions for Christian Standard.