Africans in Ukraine are facing the double whammy of war and racism.
Bengaluru, March 3, 2022
In a huge hall, orderly beds were made ready. People were isolated from their families. They were given pieces of bread and buns to eat. Their yearning desire to meet their families brought tears. There was fear for life in everyone’s eyes. This is not a Covid isolation room but a war evacuation room.
Black people from African countries were not allowed to board trains to leave war-torn Ukraine. They were told to wait until native Ukrainians left the country, said a stranded African.
Emmanuel. E who is a Black surgeon in Ukraine and a United Nations (UN) volunteer said, “Ukrainians first before anyone. Even pregnant African women were not a priority. A Ukrainian mother and kid will go on that train. That’s what goes on and that’s what we tag as racism. They both are mothers with kids. Both should be priorities.”
Reaching the border
Tayo, a stranded South African student from Lviv Railway station said, “The Ukrainians told us that we aren’t allowed to enter the train until the woman, children and all their citizens enter the train. Then, if there is still space, we can be allowed in. We are advised to go and take thebus down to Poland which we have to pay 3000 UAH (Ukrainian Hryvnia) per person to reach the Poland border. A country in the middle of a war is being racist.”
People are running out of supplies and are unable to move to safer places. “We are plenty of Africans trapped in Sumy. We have been making efforts to leave since last week Thursday but the soldiers refused. There’s no food because all shops are closed. The food they are distributing , it’s only for Ukrainians. They refused to give me food after I had been standing in a queue for more than three hours,” a Nigerian in Sumy who wanted to remain anonymous said.
Elle, an Irish activist who is assisting people in Ukraine said that the general buses to border check- points are also not allowing Africans. She said people have to move by walking, hitchhiking,and rental cars.
The Nigerian in Sumy said, “The railway line is destroyed so the only available route is to get a bus. There’s no bus here. I’ve been calling everybody but there’s no information about any bus.”
Panther Special Operations Command (PANSOC), a rescue team based in the United States said, “There are still some Nigerians stuck at the Sumy State University because they have to pass through Kyiv and Kharkiv where the war is predominant. They can’t get to the border. The school is also asking them to get clearance from the Nigerian embassy that will serve as an exit for them but the clearance isn’t even forthcoming.”
After interviewing dozens of foreign nationals trying to leave the country, Human Rights Watch said, “International students, revealed a pattern of blocking or delaying foreigners from boarding buses and trains, apparently to prioritize evacuating Ukrainian women and children.”
Entry at the borders
Most Africans from Ukraine were escaping to Slovakia, Poland, Romania, Moldova and Hungary, Emmanuel said. “More people have moved to Poland than any other borders. Most Kiev people wanted Poland because its closer and there are trains from Kiev to Poland,”he said.
However, the entry into other countries wasn’t smooth. When people gathered at the border, the Poland authorities refused to take Black refugees.
OJ Hamis, a Ugandan was worried when he was unable to reach his brother Sam Clinton. He said, “At the border, he (Sam Clinton) spent seven days before entering Poland. This is because each time he attempted to reach the desk for clearance he was told that they were working on Ukrainians first and not blacks.” Sam Clinton is now safe in Italy.
Elle said, “I have been messaged this by a Nigerian man at Chop. ‘I’m being delayed by the Ukrainian immigration because my passport is with the university. They are very well aware of that. The immigration in collaboration with the red cross volunteers is now demanding a bribe. A ridiculous amount.”
Mariela Gracia Amador, Law advisor said, “For a person to qualify as refugee, they have to be of the nationality of the country that they are seeking a refugee from.” However, countries like Hungary had announced that lawful residents of Ukraine can seek temporary protection from the country.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said, “Violence, ill-treatment, and push-backs continue to be regularly reported at multiple entry points at land and sea borders, within and beyond the European Union (EU), despite repeated calls by UN agencies.”
Human Rights Watch reported that no precautions are being taken to prevent the covid spread when refugees seek asylum in another country.
Moving the border and fleeing to a safer boundary is difficult. But finding the Africans in the war zones is a bigger task for the families and the rescue teams.
Emmanuel said, “Cases of stranded or missing persons are bigger and no public address unit to reach out at borders to find out who is there or not. People have either lost their phones or cannot be reached due to lack of power in their phones.”
Douglas William said that he is hiding in the Poland border. He said, “I’m here to search for my family in Ukraine and I also have cousins in Kyiv but since this calamity started have not been able to reach my family. I’m just here with my two siblings.”
Tida, a Congolese said, “They (Poland border police) took the passport away and never gave them back even when they (her friends) were asking for it.”
“ Some black people were taken to custody at the Polish border. Non-Whites are being pushed away to allow others to move ahead (in the Poland border),” said Lisanna Stotle, a rescue team member.
In 2014, the Blacks who were living in Ukraine conducted Ukraine’s Euromaidan protests that broke into violence. In 2020, there was a continuation of this protest with a different tagline — #BlackLivesMatter. However, the Blacks still have to struggle for their rights in the country.
Tayo said, “Yeah, this (#BlackLivesMatter) have been going on for years and there aren’t any changes.”
“I don’t like racism as a word, it shouldn’t have a room in the modern era. We bleed the same color, not black blood or blue blood,” said a source who wished to be anonymous.
Hajd, a French student who fled Ukraine said that there are kilometres of the queue where the people are waiting to cross the border.
ICEF Monitor, an international education market analyst reported, “The African Union has issued a statement on these reports of racism, reminding governments that ‘all people have the right to cross borders during international conflict … notwithstanding their nationality or racial identity.’”
There are many organizations that work for the evacuation of Blacks from Ukraine.
Criney Insalata from London manages one of the fund- raisers. She said that they have collected 60,000 pounds which has so far helped in evacuating 15 people and providing food, transportation, and accommodation for many.
Tracy Maria works for another fund- raiser organized by Each One Teach One, an organization with black anti-racist resistance movements. She said, “I’m working on donations with my association to help BPoC (Black Person and Person of Colour) with necessities.”
However, most of the funds are donated to these organizations by business ownerswho live in Ukraine and are Africans and from Germany, says Maria.
Emmanuel said, “There is a crypto company partnering to support, called Patricia crypto company. But I haven’t heard about any substantial support from our billionaires and musicians and politicians from Nigeria yet.”
War front in Ukraine
Ukraine’s health ministry revealed at least 352 people, including 14 children, have been killed and 1,684 wounded since Russia began the invasion. Russia shelled its first missile on Kharkiv city on 24 February 2022.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said that more than five lakh people have left Ukraine for neighboring countries so far.