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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
border posts

People of colour report racism and discrimination while trying to flee Ukraine

“We’ve been sleeping here, on this pavement,” one student said.

przemysl-poland-01st-mar-2022-women-from-africa-arrive-at-the-polish-border-thousands-of-refugees-from-ukraine-enter-poland-as-the-russian-federation-army-crossed-ukrainian-borders-the-conflict Alamy Stock Photo Refugees from Ukraine enter Poland. Alamy Stock Photo

FOREIGN STUDENTS and people of colour have reported being subjected to racist and discriminatory treatment as they try to flee Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion. 

There have been many first person accounts of people from other countries trying to leave by bus or train and told they cannot get on. One woman said she was told “only Ukrainians”, while trying to get on a bus departing for Poland.

Nigeria and South Africa are among the countries that have called for better treatment of their citizens.

The African Union, which represents 55 member states across the continent, said on Monday that it had received reports that African citizens on the Ukrainian side are being refused the right to cross the border to safety.

“Reports that Africans are singled out for unacceptable dissimilar treatment would be shockingly racist and in breach of international law,” it said.

The Union’s chairs urged “all countries to respect international law and show the same empathy and support to all people fleeing war, notwithstanding their racial identity”.

Some of the people trying to flee Ukraine noted that they had never experienced racism in the country before this. 

The Ukrainian Ministry for Foreign Affairs released a statement saying that “in Ukraine, there is no discrimination based on race, skin color or nationality, including when it comes to the crossing of the state border by foreign citizens”.

“The first come first served approach applies to all nationalities,” it said.

In accordance with international humanitarian law, priority is given to women and children. All men, both Ukrainian nationals and foreign citizens, pass checks and check-in operations after women, children and elderly people.

Ukraine has been a popular destination for foreign students, hosting tens of thousands of people from various countries who want to study.

There were 16,000 African students in Ukraine before the conflict, according to Kyiv’s ambassador in Pretoria, a legacy of the close ties between many countries on the continent and the nations of the former Soviet bloc.

At Shegyni border post that links Poland and Ukraine, there were still several hundred people, muffled up against the cold, queueing patiently to make the crossing on Tuesday.

They were from Pakistan, India, Algeria, DR Congo, Cameroon, Ghana and Algeria. Some said they had spent four nights there, with temperatures dropping as low as -10°.

On the other side of the road was another queue, reserved for Ukrainians – mainly women and children as most men had stayed behind to fight. That line was moving more quickly.

“All of us, we’ve got our papers,” said Mesum Ahmed, a 23-year-old computer student from Pakistan. “Because we’re foreigners, they are treating us like dogs.

“We’ve been sleeping here, on this pavement,” said Ahmed. “But the Ukrainians, they couldn’t care less.”

“You can see fine well what separates them from us,” a young Nigerian said. “We’re black, that’s what it is.”

Local volunteers served them hot drinks and sandwiches.

“We’re here, we wait, and they don’t tell us anything,” said Richard Adjen Kusi, a student from Ghana.

He left the central city of Cherkassy when Russian President Vladimir Putin “started talking about nuclear weapons three days ago”.

But everything seemed to be blocked here, he said. “It’s not moving one centimetre… I’m scared.”

a-woman-from-western-africa-cries-while-taking-on-the-phone-after-fleeing-ukraine-following-the-russian-invasion-at-the-border-checkpoint-in-medyka-poland-february-28-2022-reuterskai-pfaffenba Alamy Stock Photo A woman from Western Africa cries while taking on the phone after fleeing Ukraine. Alamy Stock Photo

A group of around 30 students from Cameroon who until recently had been in the central city of Kirovograd said it was only in the last few days that they had experienced racism in Ukraine.

Bryan Famini, a 22-year-old economics student, said that changed with the invasion: “In the stations, on the trains, were were systematically kept away from the seating.”

“Some Ukrainians even made fun of us from their cars, seeing us walking,” said 22-year-old Ghislain Weledji.

Ukraine’s border service denied there had been any difficulties. “Nobody has been prevented from leaving Ukraine,” they told AFP. 

On the Polish side, officials confirmed that anyone fleeing Ukraine would be welcomed, whatever their nationality.


  • From the Ukrainian government: Those who require assistance can call, Viber or Telegram the following number:
    +380 93418 56 84
  • For Chinese citizens:
    电话:+380 (99) 247 90 83
  • For Indian citizens:
    +380 (93) 077 83 77
  • For citizens of Iran/ Pakistan:
    +380 (93) 075 25 51

With reporting from © AFP 2022

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