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Local authorities implicated in fatal attack on Roma residents in Kharkiv oblast

Halya Coynash

Human rights groups have demanded a proper investigation into the fatal incident on May 16 in the Kharkiv oblast which left one man dead, and four injured.  All the victims were Roma residents of Vilshany, in the Derhachi district, and witness accounts suggest that the attack was organized by the local authorities. 

According to Roma witnesses, they had been invited to the Vilshany Council by Regional Council deputy, Oleksiy Lytvynov.  He is also the former head of the Council and the father of the current head, Andriy Lytvynov.  The BBC Ukrainian Service reports that the conflict arose between Lytvynov Junior and Ruslan Kaspytsky, the son of a senior figure in the Rompa community.  It was his father 49-year-old Mykola Kaspytsky who was shot  and killed.

Members of the Roma community say that they had been invited for a ‘talk’, and older men came, together with their sons.  The other side, linked with Oleksiy Lytvynov, were there with security guards and business partners.  

“We came as agreed, simply to talk.  We were peaceful, unarmed and they simply began shooting.”

The Roma account is backed by the fact that only Roma were killed or injured.  Most of those injured are older, and many were shot in the back when they ran after the shooting began. Petro Kasylytsky also received several wounds from a shock pistol as he ran to the car, carrying his mortally injured father.

Three people have so far been detained, including Oleksiy Lytvynov, though only on suspicion of ‘hooliganism’.  No one has been charged with killing Kaslytsky, and Lytvynov is denying any involvement.  He also claims that he had no interest in speaking with the Roma community and that it was Vilshany residents who were “against the gypsies”.  

The police have removed three weapons which were sent for forensic examination, including shock pistols and hunting rifles.

The Kharkiv Human Rights Group has asked the Prosecutor General Yury Lutsenko to ensure that a proper investigation is carried out.  At present, two separate cases have been initiated, one over murder to be run by the Derhachi police, the other – over hooliganism and use of weapons, in which three men, including Lytvynov, are in custody, by the prosecutor.  That involving the deputy should be handed to the Kharkiv regional prosecutor’s office, KHPG suggests.

In a statement released on May 18, the International Renaissance Foundation points to elements of racial intolerance, and not only in the fact of the violence against them, but in threats since then from the local authorities that they could be evicted from Vilshany. 

IRF expresses concern at the increasing number of such outbreaks of ethnic hatred against Roma in different parts of Ukraine.  One reason, they say, is the lack of consistent government policy and inadequate implementation of the Strategy supposedly in place on protecting and ensuring integration of Roma into Ukrainian society. 

IRF links this incident to the progrom in Loshchynivka in the Odesa oblast (details here), calls for the eviction of Roma from the Sheludivka village in the Kharkiv oblast and failure by the government to react properly. 

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