Eleonora Kulchar, REYN-Ukraine: “A Child’s Best Interest is Our Primary Value”

Between 350 and 400 thousand Roma people live in Ukraine. Most of them are undocumented and are living in a difficult socio-economic situation, without proper conditions to support their children’s optimal development and growth. Parents are not always sufficiently educated to be able to help their child with homework, and they are usually simply unable to create a supportive home environment for learning and development. Since 2016, REYN Ukraine has been helping Roma parents and children to solve these issues. Now REYN Ukraine network includes 702 members. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the network members had 120 work meetings. Today we are talking with the REYN Ukraine national coordinator Eleonora Kulchar about the challenges and successes of their work.

What are the priorities of REYN Ukraine?

Our network priorities reflect values ​​and principles that are declared in our strategic development. Our values are: working in the best interest of a child, responsibility, professionalism, transparency, and respect for diversity. We also have several principles. For instance, a child’s best interest is the primary value of the REYN Ukraine. Therefore, all our activities are aimed at solving key challenges of the child, supporting education and early development. Besides, being a part of the REYN Ukraine network team means taking responsibility for a relationship, for action and result. Professional growth is also very important for us. Transparency is one more vital thing, and for us, it equals trust. Moreover, we accept diversity in people, and we respect their personalities and choices.

What are your short-time and long-time goals?

During the monitoring that we recently had, we have found that one of the main problems, obstacles to the successful training of Roma children in schools, is discrimination and stigmatization on a national basis, often manifested in bullying. Therefore, our short-term plan is to form and implement an advocacy program aiming at overcoming this problem and minimize its consequences. We also would like to attract new partners: state structures, national NGOs, international organizations, and experts who have experience in fighting against bullying. Besides, we would like to expand the network by including the new members who, as stakeholders, have the competence and relevant resources to change/influence the situation at the regional levels in Roma communities. Our long-term plan is to make the policies aimed at raising the level of education of Roma children and promoting these policies to the regional and national levels.

What is the current situation with young Roma children in your country, taking into consideration the COVID-19 situation?

Roma children in Ukraine were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic: quarantine and the transition of schools and universities to online learning. The level of education of Roma children was relatively low even before, and now, with the pandemic, the situation worsened.

What is your message to the policy-makers of your country – what would you ask them or tell them if you had 1 minute to talk to them?

I would ask them if their children were in the place where Roma children are now – what they would change in the country’s education system.

What is the dream of your national REYN for Roma children in your country?

Our dream is depicted in a vision of the REYN Ukraine network: the world of where Roma child is happy is the world where this child feels safety, care and has a chance to take a worthy place in the society and remain him- or herself at the same time.  

Read more about REYN Ukraine and follow their Facebook page

Online Forum “We are all Children” Took Place in Ukraine

“2020 is a year of challenge for each of us and for our network in particular,” said REYN-Ukraine national coordinator Eleonora Kulchar during the online forum “We are all Children” that took place on November 24-25. “Unfortunately, we cannot look in the eyes of each of you or hug you. But I thank each one of you that you were able to find time for this forum and that you are ready to remember that children have no nationality, social or economic status. All of them are just children who deserve love and support from us, adults.”

During the forum, organized by the Transcarpathian Regional Charitable Foundation “Blago”, the host organization of REYN, participants discussed strategic goals of the REYN-Ukraine network and how they resonate with the draft of the new National Roma Integration Strategy  in Ukraine. REYN International Coordinator Aljosa Rudas spoke about the challenges faced by Roma communities, families and children and highlighted how National REYNs support them. Open Society Foundations Program Officer of Early Childhood Program Szilvia Pallaghy outlined the child’s interests in the new EU Roma strategic framework on equality, inclusion and participation for 2020-2030.

Distance learning is hard to access

The results of a joint study by REYN-Ukraine and the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine on Roma children’s access to education during the pandemic were also discussed during the forum. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Roma children experienced bullying and not fair treatment at school. With the pandemic, this challenges became more severe.The study shows that 51.8% of parents reported that their children were bullied by the teachers, and 47.9% said that children were bullied by other children. In the whole country, distance learning was almost inaccessible to Roma children, as only a third of respondents had a smartphone, tablet or laptop and only 27% use regularly internet. In large families, one device was available for all children with repercussions on their online attendance and performance. In almost every third family, children did not do homework at all.

Encouraging children to dream and grow

This year, under REYN Ukraine, Transcarpathian Regional Charitable Foundation “Blago” supported financially six projects, and provided advice to two more. These projects were designed and implemented by REYN members in different Ukrainian cities, who  shared their experience and best practices during the forum. Among the projects, there is a street school of primary socialization for Roma children living in temporary settlements in the Lviv region, made possible by the integrated work of social workers, juvenile prevention officers and Roma volunteers.

“Children can and should dream about more things than what they have now!” the project implementors said.

Besides, this year, thanks to REYN, the following initiatives started in Ukraine:

  • An interactive summer camp in Odessa region for Roma and Ukrainian children took place. The main idea of the camp is the belief that friendship begins in childhood.
  • A center for preschool development now exists in a Roma cultural center in Zolotonosha, Cherkasy region.
  • Bilingual cartoons are disseminated between the professionals who work with Roma children and also in the schools where Roma children study and in the Roma organizations
  • REYN donated notebooks and laptops  to preschool age Roma children to support their development and the gradual acquisition of the Ukrainian language.
  • An alternative school during pandemic appeared in the Odesa region.
  • Because of distance learning, computer literacy courses for parents started in Kharkiv region.
  • The promotion of online local initiatives, models and methodologies of preschool development has begun  in Uzhhorod.

It is also worth mentioning that in 2020 the REYN-Ukraine network has significantly expanded. Currently, it consists of one national coordinator and three regional coordinators in different parts of Ukraine. The network management includes eight organizations from different regions of Ukraine. The network has 698 members and covers 14 regions of Ukraine.

‘Every child has the right to flourish’, REYN Ukraine members echo

A new study presented by REYN Ukraine shows that Romani children are lagging behind in school compared to their peers. Advocates for early childhood development called for investing in Romani children.

The education and development of Romani children will not be beneficial to Roma only but also to future taxpayers, to the economic sector and to the country in general. This is the main message sent from the Annual REYN Ukraine Conference last week. The event was attended by experts, government representatives, early childhood professionals, Roma parents and the civil society.

New study presented

RENY Ukraine has presented the results of a new report on the status of Romani children’s housing and education. Romani children are lagging behind in school compared to their non Romani peers. The causes of this are: Romani children usually do not attend preschool education so they already start with a gap that they have to fill; also, teachers do not seem to have the right tools to work with children that are diverse socially, economically and culturally.

A large majority of the Romani families has difficulties to provide for their children so attending preschool is of secondary importance to them. In the Transcarpathia region 54.4% of children go to bed hungry sometimes. Although the situation is not so critical in other areas, there are problems with the purchase of clothing, footwear and office supplies.

Also, 35% of Roma parents in Transcarpathia stated that it was difficult for their children to study, in particular, writing, reading and mathematics. This indicates a low level of preschool preparation. At the same time, teachers declare that the main problems is the lack of discipline, which indicates a low level of socialization and adaptation of Roma children to the educational process as a whole.

The conference

The Conference was also saw the participation of REYN members in the country, they asked to policy makers a society where every child has the right to grow up happy.

The REYN network participated in a meaningful discussion with Serhiy Nizhynsky, the Deputy Minister of Social Policy of Ukraine, Volodymyr Khodakivsky, repr. of the Ministry of Culture, Sayenko Svitlana repr. of the Ministry of Social Policy, a representative of the Children’s Ombudsman Aksana Filipishyna and Yuriy Mandich, Staff Advisor of the mayor of Uzhgorod.

The event took place on November 21-22, 2019. REYN National Networks from Serbia, Hungary and Slovakia shared with the audience their good practices and lessons learned.

The meeting was also attended by Zemfira Kondur, a representative of the Council of Europe Office in Ukraine, who said that the results of the REYN Ukraine research were recently presented in Strasbourg during the World Democracy Forum.

Read more about REYN Ukraine.

REYN ‘School of Advocacy’ in Ukraine

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The REYN National Networks from Slovakia, Serbia and Italy, joined the Ukrainian Step by Step Foundation (USSF) in Odessa at the ‘School of Advocacy’. An event to share advocacy strategies with REYN Ukraine members on July 2nd and 3rd.

By meeting their international colleagues, REYN Ukraine members learned new advocacy techniques that can improve living conditions of Roma communities at local and at national level.

REYN Italy’s coordinator, Associazione 21 Luglio, joined with his President Carlo Stasolla. Mr Stasolla presented their successful campaigns on quality education, vaccination and on preventing the spreading of diseases among Roma communities.

Erika Szaboova, from REYN Slovakia, shared good practices on campaigning for socially vulnerable groups.

The event was hosted by USSF, national coordinator of REYN Ukraine.  On the occasion, participants also visited the villages of Nerubayskoe and Korsuntsi, where large Roma communities live. They spoke to the Roma families living there and saw their housing conditions.

The REYN Ukraine coordinator, Eleonora Kulchar, also presented their advocacy work in the city of Uzhgorod and in the country.

The two-day meeting was rated of ‘high value’ by local activists and human rights defenders, and by all those who are part of REYN in the country.


Learn more about REYN Ukraine here.



REYN Ukraine: Persona Doll methodology workshop reaches over 800 pre-schools

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Persona Doll methodology workshop
REYN Ukraine, Persona Doll methodology workshop

A series of workshops based on the Persona Doll methodology have been conducted by the REYN National Network, the Ukrainian Step by Step Foundation (USSF) and UNICEF.

The Persona Doll approach is a way to teach children to live with ethnic diversity. Each doll (usually rag doll) has its own profile, personality and story. Dolls and their stories help children develop empathy and encourage them to react and stand for themselves whenever they witness injustice or prejudice attitudes.

Over the past few years, USSF and UNICEF have trained over 2,600 teachers, psychologists and other relevant staff in 812 pre-schools in five Ukrainian regions impacted by the war: Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Zaporizhya, Donetsk and Luhansk.

The Persona Doll workshops organized by the REYN National Network promoted new pedagogical and psychological approaches for practitioners who work with Romani children. A total of 45 people were trained in September-October 2017 in areas with a high presence of Roma communities more precisely in Kyiv, Dnipro, Kharkiv and Odesa region. School/pre-school teachers and principals, psychologists, experts and local educational department representatives were among the attendees.

The Persona Doll methodology has already shown successful results in different contexts and countries. Recently the training has been made available for those who work on the inclusion of Romani children in classrooms attended by Roma and non-Roma.