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This is a story about the Roma community of Vinnytsia and its gradual integration into Ukrainian society. Baron Petro Ogly has been leading the community for over 10 years. From all the big family he is the only one with the higher education. Therefore, his father passed the baron title to him, and not to the older sons, as it should be according to the Romany tradition.

Petro leads the music band in Vinnytsia, he is a civil activist and advocates for the local Romany people.

By living and working in Ukraine for over 30 years Petro Ogly has achieved what the generations of the Romany people are striving for – the respect from the locals for himself and for his community.

Petro Ogly was born in Almaty, Kazakhstan. He graduated from Kazakh State University with a diploma of the light music orchestra conductor. As a student he had played a music in restaurants and when he moved to Vinnytsia, Ukraine he worked for five years in the House of Officers (the cultural centre), and five years as a music teacher in a local school. Now Petro is a successful musician and baron, and the first one from his family and community who has been baptised. He has his band “Baron”, is a lot on tour, participates actively in the community life and helps to solve the problems of the local Roma. Baron is the first person that the Roma would ask for advice. Petro tries to do his best for the community development and education.

The house of Baron is in the area with the private houses. It is not a big mansion, but a normal building without the abundant luxuries. Petro dresses simply, smiles a lot and is eager to tell about his life.

In 1984 Petro with his family moved from Kazakhstan to Ukraine. His sister lived in Vinnytsia at that time, and the family had decided to reunite:

— Father and mother decided that we need to move. And this is the place where I actively started as a musician.

About the moving of the family, which consisted of 12 people back then, Petro recalls:

— We took a train to Moscow first, and then here, to Vinnytsia. Back then, we could put our belongings into the container, and that container was delivered here. We arrived without any belongings. Next, we bought the house and moved in. The container arrived, we came to unload the things from it, but all the furniture was totally broken. We had thrown away everything, only the clothes, pillows and blankets remained.

Romany tradition

The father of Petro, Buraliy, was the oldest Romany baron in Ukraine. He lived for 108 years.

Despite having older brothers in a family, the baron title went to Petro:

— Father decided to pass the title to me because I was younger and more educated, but normally it should be given to the oldest of the family. I am the only one with the higher education in a family. That is why father decided to pass the title to me – because I am more serious about it and can solve the issues better.

Petro has the baron title for over 12 years now and plans to pass it to one of his sons later. At the moment he is still motivated to perform his duties.

For Romany people, it is extremely important to preserve own traditions. Of course, the development of the society and technology leads to the adaptation of the progressive community representatives too:

— There is a saying “to keep the pace with the times”. We need to keep it because if we miss just a few steps, it will be more complicated to follow. Because then one turns into a barbarian. We have an access to the existing information. However, we should not forget our roots. All this go in parallel: both present and past. Everything is very severe. It is important to not forget the Romani language because it is disappearing now. Every Romany person should know three languages: Romani, Ukrainian and Russian

One more tradition that the Roma try to preserve is the respect to the older ones. For example, if the elder Rom enters the building, all the younger ones should stand up. Petro thinks it is a very good tradition.

Baron helps the elderly Roma in Vinnytsia. He is doing the crowdfunding for money, food and clothes for those elderly Roma who are in real need. Also Baron took care of them to get Ukrainian passports and to receive the minimum retirement pension.

While Petro had got the Baron title from his father, he had been elected as a head of the Romany organization by Romany people:

— They spoke to each other, came to me and told that we have decided that you should lead. We had the elections. There were another four candidates, but they decided I should do it. So I am grateful for the trust. I am leading for 16 years now.

Petro solves different issues of the Roma community. Sometimes he takes the role of the family psychologist, cooperates with the local authorities and police. In general, he deals with all the issues related to the Roma in Vinnytsia:

— We try to work on the improvement of Roma life. For now, it is not very good, but we try. We control that kids are going to school. I am controlling that strictly by myself. So, you know, it is not like they attend it for 2-3 years and that is it. For example, five Roma have graduated from the law faculty in Odesa now. There are Roma professors, with a PhD title.

Petro Ogly has an active social life. He worked for a long time as a coordinator of the cooperation with European Roma Rights Centre (Budapest, Hungary) in Ukraine. For six years he was involved into human rights activities and worked for Romany cultural organization “Romani Yag” as a correspondent for their periodicals.

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Romany community

The Ukrainian society still reacts very differently to the Roma presence. Unfortunately, a very few of community representatives are respected. Some people are simply afraid of them, some are just cautious, some might even treat them radically, aggressively.

Petro has never witnessed an aggression from the others aimed at him. He thinks Vinnytsia is very tolerant to the Roma. That can be attributed to the merit of Petro himself because he managed to help to find the job and to socialize many Roma. Mostly they are merchants on the market, artists or have some businesses.

There are no Romany beggars in Vinnytsia. Those that one can see on the streets Petro calls “visitors”. However, Baron can not control everyone. Sometimes there are unpleasant situations:

— It happens that police comes and we investigate why this occurred. I am the head of the community, that is why I am responsible. I solve the problems, look for a compromise. I need to do it, there is no other way.

Baron tells, that modern Roma in Vinnytsia do not differ a lot in a way of life from the average Ukrainians. However, every day the Roma face a lot of stereotypes which form the general image of the Roma in Ukraine. Petro relates these stereotypes to the certain closeness of the community representatives.

— The Roma are a complicated, closed nationality. But we are trying to open up more, to allow the people to learn about us. We were always “expelled” because we did not allow strangers inside and were closed. This is a habit people preserve in their genes. It seems, whom should one be afraid of, from whom to hide? But people close themselves off anyway

Petro would not distinguish the problems of the Roma and Ukrainians, he considers them to be common ones:

— We live in the same country. How do we differ from you? Do we eat some special bread, or do you? We go to the shop the same as you do, buy a bread and mineral water, drink a tea. The problems which are happening in Ukraine affect all the areas, and we all are the people. If the problem happens to all of us, we cannot avoid it. And it does not matter anymore whether you are a Rom or a Ukrainian.

— There is no bad nation – there are bad people. It is the same everywhere – in Ukraine, in Russia – everywhere. The usual people are – there are good, friendly ones, but also bad ones. But they are people anyway, right?

To understand each other

Romani language belongs to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family. Therefore it is the only European language with the Indian origins. Because of the linguistic contacts, it has absorbed some of the features of the Balkan language area.

According to Petro Ogla, Romani language has a plenty of dialects. Sometimes two Roma from the different regions cannot understand each other:

— I travelled Europe for conferences, and I needed to communicate and learn the dialects because foreign Roma know only Romani and English.

Once Petro served as an interpreter for two Roma from different countries:

— I was on the festival in Hungary with my band and there was a situation that two Roma from Romania and Bulgaria were trying to tell something to each other. I was listening to them and was burst into laugh. I know many dialects, communicate with both Romanian and Bulgarian Roma, so I helped them with the interpretation.


The music is the biggest passion for Petro. Baron sings, plays the guitar and leads the band “Baron”, where his sons perform too. The band is touring a lot around Ukraine and abroad, they play on festivals, concerts and weddings. Petro says the music is always following the Roma.

— It is a musical folk. It comes with a mother milk, I think. Look, this kid is small but dancing already. And this all is passed that way, do you understand? This is probably the only folk of such kind because they spend all the life with musicians.

Petro explains, that “Gipsy Romance” is an artificial concept:

— There is no such thing as gipsy romance. Who would write it, illiterate gipsies? In order to compose a music one must be educated, write the musical notes, all this. There was nothing like this. There is no gipsy music. It was created artificially. I will explain. So, Shalyapin (famous opera singer) came into the yard, for example. People used to sing in the yards back then. So he went out, walked down the street and sang with his Shalyapin-bass. Wuuuh! And the gipsies borrowed “this”. They learned the lyrics, music and did it their way. Then they went out to the yard. So when the same song was played by 2-3 guitarists and a singer they added their own tones, gipsy melisma to the same song that Shalyapin was performing before. They played it in the different form. This is how the gipsy romances were born, no one was composing them. There was no time for that.

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Together with his band Petro also arranges the folk songs, both Ukrainian and Romany. Apart from the performances with “Baron”, he performs often with the other musicians and singers in the city.

This man is respected both by Roma and other city residents in Vinnytsia. His concerts get the full house, with only a small part of the visitors being the Roma, and the rest are those who appreciate the Romany sense of music or the charisma of the performers.

Petro is often performing in Zakarpattia, and he can tell the difference between the Roma of Vinnytsia and Zakarpattia:

— This is a totally different world, believe me! Zakarpattia is the only place where the Roma are different, not the same as here. It is as if there is a special line separating us. I don’t understand myself who they are.

Read our story about the Roma of Zakarpattia.

Petro is in touch with the other barons. They often get together and plan how to improve the life of the Roma community in Ukraine. Perto Ogly has many plans, but the most important one is to bring the Romany culture to the public. He is implementing it in different ways – through the music, festivals, civic activism:

— I go to Kyiv, 2-3 August there are the Holocaust days. We go to Podil (area in Kyiv), where the march of the Roma will take place. There will be the songs about our deceased. Then we will go to Dnipro with the guitars.

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