Several dozen people in a Roma community in southern Ukraine were forced to flee their homes after a mob tore through their neighborhood over the weekend, breaking windows, tearing down fences and even setting a house on fire while the heavily outnumbered police stood by and watched.
The violence in the small town, Loshchynivka, was touched off after a local man was arrested on Saturday in connection with the rape and killing of a 9-year-old girl. A Ukrainian rights organization, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, noted that the man was not Roma.
But residents said tensions between non-Roma and Roma, already high, boiled over after the girl’s body was found. One villager, Oksana Glinko, told the local news media that people in Loshchynivka were “living in constant fear” of the Roma.
After the girl’s death, hundreds of residents demanded that the Roma be expelled, and on Sunday they gained the backing of the district council. Even Mikheil Saakashvili, the governor of the region of Odessa, which includes Loshchynivka, and a former president of Georgia, offered tacit support in a video message posted on Facebook, denouncing the village’s “antisocial elements.”
The Roma apparently left voluntarily, and by Sunday night about 40 of the 50 Roma in the town had left in a rush, leaving many essentials behind. Any who returned to collect their belongings were met with threats of lynching, the local news media reported.
With the authorities under pressure to prosecute the accused, a local police leader, Vadym Mohyla, said it was unfortunately “impossible to immediately punish the guilty.”