Dear Philip and Diane,
For two years I have been visiting four gypsy camps every day in the forest plantations around Lviv. The gypsies are some of the most obscure people in the world. Most of them are from the Zakarpatti region of the Ukraine. They strive to survive in very difficult living conditions without any water, gas, electricity, sewage and life’s simple, daily products. Most of them do not have work or study because they cannot find employment. Work can be very difficult to find in the Ukraine. It is a myth to say that gypsies do not like work and merely thieve and steal. I have been watching them for years. If they can get a job, they will work hard in order to provide food for their families. Their families can contain up to ten children.
Every day the gypsies linger in the villages looking for scrap metal, weaving baskets from vines, tying brooms, digging horseradish in the fields and collecting what they can from council garbage heaps. The women resort to street corners in order to beg. You will see that during the winter, most of the gypsies live in the forest and nearby swamps because they do not have any secure form of housing.
In most of the camps, not only the children but also the adults, are uneducated. However, most of them do want to learn to read. An added problem and one of the chief causes for them being marginalised in the country, is that they possess no official documents. Their accommodation cannot be called housing for they are ‘built’ from waste products that have been scavenged. Conditions inside these dwellings are pitiful. It is still strange to me how they manage to survive during our harsh Ukrainian winters. Their ghetto conditions are unsanitary huts without windows and covered in oilcloth instead of a roof. The floor is raw earth with maybe a carpet.
The gypsies having no medication whatsoever, frequently become ill and die – both adults and children. Water is collected from puddles and the forest is used as a toilet. Surrounding them are big hills of city garbage. From these tips they scavenge anything that burns in order to heat their huts and tents with makeshift stoves. These huts and tents possessing no fire protection have often burnt to the ground destroying clothes, bed sheets and blankets. The family has ended up with nothing.
Myself and our visiting team talk to these people every day, giving them our practical help and also telling them about our Lord who can change their lives and give them peace and hope. As a church, we are providing adults and children with clothes, and very often we cook hot food and take it into their camp.
A huge problem for these people is a lack of drinking water. In the winter they simply melt snow. Every day I endeavour to bring them fresh water in plastic flasks. They also have a need for the basic utensils that we all use in our homes.
Our desire in the near future is to open a school class in order to educate both children and adults. We also want to build some basic toilets, a shower and a playground for the children. We plan on teaching them hygiene, how to cook, wash and cut their own hair.
So there are great plans for transforming lives in the gypsy camp. May the Lord help us.
I thank you for all of the support of the kind British people.
God bless each one of you.