International Students Face Racism And Segregation At The Ukrainian Border

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 660,000 individuals have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24. Thousands of international students who traveled to Ukraine for college or medical school were among them. Russian shelling in Kharkiv has killed at least two students from India and Algeria. As tens of thousands of refugees run to Ukraine’s western border, stories of discriminatory behavior by police at border crossing points have spread throughout social media.

Officials were dividing individuals by race to pick who got to travel over the border in order to remove Ukrainians ahead of other refugees, according to Twitter users. Videos went viral purporting to show Africans being left stranded at Ukrainian railway stations or barred from boarding trains, as well as groups of African and Indian students being threatened with firearms and vehicles, shoved and abused at the Polish border. According to the description, a Black mother was clutching a baby in a throng at the Polish border, where the author of the video alleged Black people were being denied entrance and shelter, civil rights attorney Ben Crump tweeted a tape showing a Black woman cradling an infant in a crowd. One Nigerian student told the BBC that an official told her “if you are Black, you should walk.” She had made it into Hungary and was trying to get a ticket home to Nigeria as quickly as possible. “If your skin is dark, you’re at a disadvantage,” she said.  

Another Nigerian student who fled to Hungary told Rolling Stone he had such a hard time at the Poland border, he’d had to turn back and try a different way out. “I eventually left the Poland border due to the inhumane behaviors of the Ukrainian soldiers, and the acts of racism,” says Coy Emerald, 26. “I went back to Lviv and chose another route to Hungary.” He says he’d walked for 10 hours only to be left “unattended” at the border to Poland by people who he claims were Ukrainian soldiers. He said he’d had several “unexpected, ugly” interactions with the officials. “I thought they were trained to protect lives,” he says, adding that the “unprofessional conduct” of officials at the border was a threat beyond the crisis of war that he had not seen coming.

Ismail Adedolapo, a 23-year-old Nigerian who was studying in Ukraine before escaping to Poland, claims he encountered bigotry on his journey and that officials only let Ukrainian women and children depart. Despite this, he sympathizes with the Ukrainian people, who have been subjected to Russian aggression since the invasion of Crimea in 2014. “I was subject to racist treatment at the Ukrainian border, but it’s kind of excusable considering they have experienced the war firsthand for the last eight years,” he says. “At the same time, everyone deserves a chance at life because we were all trying to escape certain death.”

Nazish Ehtesham, a 19-year-old Indian student, claims to have witnessed authorities separate individuals by nationality at the Romanian border. “I don’t know whether to call that racism or what, but they were allowing less foreigners as compared to Ukrainians,” he says.

Several African countries in the United Nations Security Council decried reported discrimination against African people on Monday. “We strongly condemn this racism and believe that it is damaging to the spirit of solidarity that is so urgently needed today,” Kenyan U.N. Ambassador Martin Kimani said. “The mistreatment of African peoples on Europe’s borders needs to cease immediately.” The claimed racism was “unacceptable,” according to Gabon’s UN envoy. “Reports that Africans are singled out for unacceptable dissimilar treatment would be shockingly racist and in breach [of] international law.” the African Union stated in a statement. The African Union asked all countries to “show the same empathy and support to all people fleeing war notwithstanding their racial identity.”

Those traveling to other nations have expressed gratitude for the compassion and assistance they’ve received along the journey. “One thing I must appreciate [is] that locals and NGOs were very helpful,” Ehtesham says. “They were distributing all the necessary foods and stuff on both sides.” On Monday, Nze, the Twitter user who shared recordings of students being threatened with firearms and automobiles, tweeted an update, stating that locals had been courteous to him and other migrants on their journey. “Polish people provided healthy foods for us, blankets and many things,” he stated. “They provided everything for free, including buses and trains. Ukrainians also offered us foods on the road [because] we were all trekking. Only their law enforcement officials were terrible.”

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