Two Ukraine minors in custody over deadly Roma attack

A suspected attacker on a Roma camp in Ukraine attends a court hearing June 25 near the city of Lviv. The first fatal attack on Ukraine's Roma population in years left one man dead and four more hospitalised on Saturday

Lviv (Ukraine) (AFP) – A Ukrainian court has ordered that two minors suspected in a deadly attack on a Roma camp be held in custody for 60 days, officials said Tuesday, as concern grows over a wave of hate crimes.

On Saturday, masked assailants attacked a Roma camp outside Lviv, in western Ukraine, with batons and knives, killing one man.

The 24-year-old died from stab wounds while four more people were hospitalised, including a 10-year-old Roma boy and a woman aged 30.

The first fatal attack against Ukraine’s Roma population in years came after rights groups earlier this month accused the Kiev government of turning a blind eye to a spate of hate crimes in the capital Kiev and the west.

In an apparent attempt to show that West Ukraine was prepared to take a tougher stance, a court in the Lviv region on Monday ordered the two minors be held in pre-trial detention for 60 days.

Six other suspected attackers — five of them minors — were still awaiting a court ruling, officials said.

Yulia Shevchenko, a spokeswoman for regional prosecutors, told AFP the ruling was expected later Tuesday.

Police said most of the attackers are aged 16 and 17 while their purported organiser is 20. 

If convicted, they risk life in prison.

– ‘Final wake-up call’ –

“It is of great importance that all relevant actors at the highest political level, as well as local authorities and police forces, mobilise in response to this situation, which seems to have spread throughout Ukraine,” Council of Europe Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland said in a statement Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch said the latest attack “should be a final wake-up call for Ukraine’s police to take decisive action against hate crimes.”

The watchdog said the suspects are reported to be members of a radical group called Sober and Angry Youth with ties to the former volunteer battalion Azov that fought against pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine.

Rights groups in Ukraine have this year documented at least two dozen violent attacks, threats, or instances of intimidation against Roma, LGBT people and activists, and rights activists.

The Council of Europe rights group estimates the number of Roma in Ukraine at 260,000, out of a population of  48.5 million.

Ukraine, which ousted a pro-Kremlin regime in a pro-Western uprising in 2014, hopes to become a member of the European Union as it seeks to overcome widespread poverty and corruption.