The biggest Roma camp in Ukraine, which is home to roughly 6,000 people, is located in Transcarpathia, near the town of Berehovo.
From the first steps the photographer and I are surrounded by a crowd. They are asking to give them money or clothes, or help get someone out of prison… People think that we are NGO representatives, as they’ve have already gotten used to their visits. The Roma try to make use of everything. There is a building for the Reformed Church in the middle of the camp, but they go there not because they are religious, but because the church distributes humanitarian aid from Europe. About one third of children from the camp go to the local primary and middle school (there are 790 school-aged children registered with social services, but not more than 250 of them attend the school; also, many girls quit because of early pregnancy), but not because they are hungry for knowledge, but simply because they are hungry, and the school provided free breakfasts from the Maltese Aid Service.
It is said that the Roma came to Berehovo from Hungary in the 1930s, when according to the First Vienna Arbitration, Berehovo was transferred from Czechoslovakia to Hungary. In January 1946, this town became a part of the Transcarpathian region of the Ukrainian SSR. The border, which lay literally outside the city limits of Berehovo, tied the Roma to Ukrainian land. Only the Hungarian language is a reminder of the past — almost everyone in the camp speaks it, but not the Roma language.
The lack of documents is one of the key issues at the camp. Many people don’t have any documents at all, and they have to go to court to get a passport.” The lawyer’s services cost 3,000 UAH ($120), another 1,000 UAH ($40) needs to be paid to the Immigration Service. For many people here this is an absolutely impossible amount of money. A regular camp inhabitant thinks that a salary of 1,000 UAH is good. The main income sources for the Roma are single mom benefits (marriages are not registered officially, so all mothers here are technically single — Ed.) and the money earned by sorting garbage at the local dump.