Timea hopes for safe life


One year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Towards Dialogue Foundation has launched the publication of a series of testimonies by Ukrainian Roma refugee women. Their poignant stories bear witness to the enormously traumatic experience of war.

This text was created as part of the series 'Stories of Roma refugee women' in cooperation with the Foundation Towards Dialogue. It originally appeared on the Foundation's website.

Timea, romska uchodźczyni

When she talks about her past, she most often uses the verb "barlangólni." In Romani, it means "to roam around," "to wander aimlessly." Timea was born in Russia. She used to live in eastern Ukraine, and nearly 15 years ago, in a worker's apartment near Kyiv.

She happens to remind her children of her wandering. She threatens that if Eliza doesn't go to school, or Béla keeps painting on the walls, they will return to the life they had before. Sometimes the boy answers her firmly, "Kamuzol!" - which means "you're teasing me", "you're pretending". And sometimes he inquires. He's not sure if his mother is just scaring him, or if she's afraid of it herself. 

They arrived in August from Transcarpathia, a town on the Hungarian-Ukrainian border. In Berehov, they lived behind a wall, isolated from the "Ukrainian" part of town. They supported themselves by cleaning the streets and collecting scrap metal. Timea worked for herself, her two children, and her husband. 

In August, children were running around the yard, mothers were sitting on the wall. Timea was the only one unafraid to speak Ukrainian, smoking cigarettes in the company of other women. In September, she organized a hotplate so she could start cooking. Reading comes with difficulty to her, but from the beginning, she tried to follow the cleaning schedule at the center. She quickly learned how to change trains on the subway and began driving to work on her own, to the Foundation. Still, she kept hearing the same accusations from strangers: that the Roma were drinking, arguing, shouting, that it was because of their children that the passage stank of urine.

She repeatedly said that she had no more strength and that she was going back to Ukraine. Like Béla, I didn't know if she was thinking of returning for real. Despite the anxieties that plagued her, she long shied away from consulting a psychologist or psychiatrist. After all, she knew about them only that they mainly ask about the past. And for her, what's important is what's now - that she's going to work, that she's able to buy food for her children, that she is able to buy for them even a big teddy bear. Or a scooter. A shotgun with styrofoam cartridges. A hot dog in a shop, almost any time.

With stability comes unexpected challenges, and the lack of it can sometimes be an excuse for boundaries that are difficult to jump over. Eliza asks why she hasn't gone to school until now. Why should she start? Béla, on the other hand, asks about everything. He's hungry all the time, and when he doesn't get a phone call, he screams and cries. 

She still believes that staying in Poland is a chance for them, despite everything. The cake she received from the Foundation's staff was the first one in her life. In November, she celebrated Béla's birthday herself, dressed him in a shirt, forbidding him to wear a hat so he wouldn't mess up his hairstyle. In the hallway of the elementary school, she is a bit embarrassed - she herself has not gone to school too much. However, she will accompany her daughter until the later learns to drive by herself. Just as she did in the fall when she drove her to the dentist every week. Although she has resigned herself to the fact that her own teeth will fall out, she is ready to fight for these daughters.

Please note that the views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.