With millions of citizens in Ukraine fleeing the country after Russia initiated a deadly attack on Feb. 24, there have been reports of racism against Black people in Ukraine as they try to leave the country.
African students trapped in Ukraine say they face extra challenges as they try to escape the war, including being blocked from getting off trains or barred from crossing borders to neighboring countries.
The hashtag #AfricansinUkraine is being used on Twitter to highlight cases of racial injustice and to highlight the ways that Black people are being left behind in the rush to flee danger.
According to the Independent, Black people seeking to leave the country have been abandoned at border crossings, and have been discriminated against in their attempts to board public transport to evacuate the country. One citizen even told the Independent that he and his family were denied entry to a bus on its way to cross the border, being told, “no blacks.”
“I cannot imagine a scenario where white Ukrainians would ever be denied asylum, so how they’re treating us is unwarranted. It’s baseless. We are all escaping so let’s push a common thread,” the citizen said.
A medical student also caught in the conflict took to social media to report their experience, and said that it continued even after they were eventually able to cross the border after hours of traveling.
“…Several buses crossing every hour and not one foreigner allowed across,” they wrote on Twitter. “We finally made it across and we’re told accommodation at the hotel is only for Ukrainians. No sleep or food in 3 days… Why does nationality determine who rests?”
According to the Irish Times, an estimated 20% of Ukrainian students are African — Morocco, Nigeria, and Egypt are among the top 10 countries with foreign students in Ukraine — and it was African activists who initially started the #AfricansinUkraine hashtag to bring awareness to the issue of racism and discrimination. Since the hashtag was started, videos and images of Black and African citizens being denied evacuation from Ukraine have flooded global social media timelines.
The UN Refugee Agency has responded to these reports in a statement posted to social media.
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>As numbers of refugees fleeing Ukraine increase by the hour, it is crucial that receiving countries continue to welcome all those fleeing conflict and insecurity – irrespective of nationality and race – and that they receive adequate international support to carry out this task.</p>— UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) <a href=”https://twitter.com/Refugees/status/1498042002633596930?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>February 27, 2022</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>
With flights out of Ukraine being grounded, African governments have had to support their people from a significant distance. Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in a statement on Sunday, Feb. 27, that Nigerians would be granted visa-free access to Hungary and Romania, and urged citizens to move towards those borders.
Nigeria’s President Buhari also took to Twitter to condemn the discrimination being reported against Nigerian citizens in Ukraine, writing: “…it is paramount that everyone is treated with dignity and without favor. All who flee a conflict situation have the same right to safe passage under UN Convention, and the color of their passport or their skin should make no difference.”
The African Union (AU) also released a statement of its own, stating that the Chairs of the AU are are “disturbed” by the reports of discrimination.
“Reports that Africans are singled out for unacceptable dissimilar treatment would be shockingly racist and in breach of International law,” the statement reads. “In this regard, the Chairpersons urge all countries to respect international law and show empathy and support to all people fleeing the war notwithstanding their racial identity.”
The Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland released a statement responding to the reports, denouncing them as “fake news.”
“Refugees fleeing war-torn Ukraine are entering Poland regardless of their nationality,” the statement reads. “…Among those cleared by the Border Guard are also citizens of other countries such as: the USA, Nigeria, India, Georgia, and others.”
Leaders and authorities from around the world have also responded to the reports, standing in solidarity with citizens on the ground.
“It is quite disturbing that you still have episodes of discrimination just because of one’s skin color, especially under such conditions,” Spokesperson for South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation, Clayson Monyela said.
“Sorting [refugees] according to their skin color or their origins is unworthy,” European MP Raphaël Glucksmann said. “The Polish government must abide by our principles and the law. Solidarity with the thousands of blocked African students.”
Stranded African citizens in Ukraine also took to Twitter Spaces over the weekend to discuss evacuation logistics, and to share their experiences of attempting to leave the country. The Irish Times also reports that Africans stuck in Ukraine have been connected on WhatsApp and Telegram for the same purposes.
One Nigerian citizen who was stranded at a train station in Kyiv told the Independent:
“This isn’t just happening to Black people — even Indians, Arabs, and Syrians, and that shouldn’t be the case.”