The Association of Roma Women Voice of Romni (Voice of Romni) is a nongovernmental organization based in Zaporizhzhya. Since the outbreak of the full-scale Russian invasion it relocated to Uzhhorod. The name of the organization reflects the very purpose of its activity: “Romni” means “a Roma woman”, so the organization works with women of Roma origin. In Zaporizhzhya, Voice of Romni worked to empower Roma women, in particular, through their training and career counseling. After relocating to Uzhhorod, the organization continued to work with both local and displaced Romani women who moved to Transcarpathia to escape the war. Moreover, the organization currently helps all women who were forced to leave their homes as a result of the Russian occupation and move to Uzhhorod either temporarily or permanently.
Voice of Romni know their new target audience well. After all, they are the same displaced women who moved from Zaporizhzhia to Uzhhorod fleeing the war. For example, before the outbreak of the war on February 24, 2022, the organization’s Program Director Anna Redko had been working on local television for 15 years. In addition to her job on television, she was a public activist working to protect the rights of women and LGBT community. Since she moved to Uzhhorod, Anna channeled her activism into a new area upon an invitation from the Voice of Romni President Anzhelika Belova.
“It was mind-boggling for me to realize that I am now a displaced person, too. I realized this after six months of living in Uzhhorod,” says Anna Redko. “We all had a wonderful life before, and we felt that we could change something in it. After the full-scale invasion, we lost this ability”. At her previous job in Zaporizhzhya, she produced a series of documentaries about displaced persons fleeing the Russian invasion of Donbas. Now Anna admits that while helping others she is beginning to regain her strength.
Every day, different women and girls come to the Voice of Romni office: for English classes, consultations with a career counselor, a psychologist or a lawyer. In the like manner, in one of the Uzhhorod beauty parlors, with the support of this nongovernmental organization, women are taught hairdressing, manicure and eyelash extension.
Such classes are held in small groups of four people. English language groups are somewhat larger, 8-10 students in each group. From February 2023 Voice Romni offer these opportunities for women within the framework of its Place of Power supported by Capable and Resistant Project implemented by East Europe Foundation with the support of Switzerland.
Motivation For Change
The modern space rented by the public organization is a former office of an Uzhhorod-based event and wedding planning agency. Their activity lost its pre-war relevance since February 24, 2022. That is why you can still see glossy magazine-style large photos of newlyweds on the walls of the Voice of Romni’s new office. When visiting the office, you will be offered tea or coffee served in beautiful borrowed cups, which makes it extra cozy.
Women take the English language course for various reasons: for work, to refresh the knowledge of English already forgotten from school years, or simply because they like the language. The course is offered at no charge. Teacher Natalya Pop says that the women try so hard that she herself is extra motivated and encouraged to help them with their studies even more.
The number of places in the class is limited, so before each lesson, the teacher runs a roll call to see who is going to be present. Women rush to sign in or sometimes even ask in advance when the roll call will be held.
“They help each other in the classroom, and this is a great atmosphere for learning the language,” says Natalia.
Women Do Need Support, Sometime Simply To Be Heard
The requests with which women turn to the Voice of Romni psychological counselors are child-parent relationships, physical and psychological abuse by partners and relatives, and their own separation from their parents. As for the latter, it is about the psychological separation of an adult woman from her parents, because it affects life, relationships, and behavior.
According to psychologist Marina Sotnikova, many IDPs found themselves in difficult circumstances, when many responsibilities fell on their shoulders, including raising children and providing for them.
“But in fact, as adults, they also need support. In particular, we have to make sure they are strong enough so that children can rely on these adults,” says Marina.
With many women, the psychologist conducts educational work: for them to be a strong support for their children, they must take care of themselves first.
Women do need support, sometimes simply to be heard. Anna Stozhko, career counselor, is convinced of that. She believes that for a woman to find a job, it depends on her psychological state and circumstances at home.
“By the way, due to the fact that I am also from Zaporizhzhya, from the affected region, we immediately find a common language,” said Anna. When women open up, you can have a sincere conversation. Besides, for Anna it is easier to help them, because she knows Transcarpathia well. Her first job was in Uzhhorod.
Master Fast Jobs
Anna Stozhko is trying to introduce Transcarpathia to resettled women.
“This is a new experience, this is about my personal development, and in the future I will use it in my life,” says Svitlana from Kharkiv about hairdressing.
“I understand the disadvantages that they tell me about, but I also remind you of the advantages which they don’t want to notice because of their traumatic experience,” says Anna. After all, there are those who feel like strangers here. Anna, together with the Voice of Romni organization, makes it possible for displaced women to feel at home at their new place. They are all thankful to Transcarpathia for such a warm welcome.
To find a job, you need to follow certain rules, says the career counselor. Sometimes, women make long pauses in the job search. For example, when several vacancies are sent to them for review they write back: “My children are sick, I will look at the job announcement later.” There are women with several university degrees, but with a narrow specialization, for example, nuclear energy. In Transcarpathia, of course, they have nowhere to apply their knowledge. Therefore, many women are ready to learn new jobs. These are mostly displaced women aged 30 to 46. They need courses because they want to gain new skills and knowledge.
Voice of Romni offer them to master fast jobs: hairdressing, manicure and eyelash work. The public organization had a successful experience in implementing such an initiative for Romani women in Zaporizhzhya. Therefore they know exactly how to provide this service to women who moved to Uzhhorod.
Victoria, who relocated to Uzhhorod from Lozova, admits that it was her dream to learn manicure: “First, for myself, and then, if it works out, do a manicure as a job.”
Anastasia from Zaporizhzhia talks about her plan to open a small manicure parlor or start receiving clients at home.
Anna Redko, Program Director of the organization, says that work on the Place of Strength Project is an opportunity to contribute to changes:
“This gives us an incentive to support each other and live in a new reality. And not only to survive, but also to create this new life, wherever we are.”
Reprinted from the issue Жінки — це 50% України