On February 24, 2022, Russian president Vladimir Putin began a large scale invasion of Russia’s neighbour, Ukraine. The United States government and other Western governments have been warning of this invasion sometime before it took place and the world waited in anticipation to see if it would actually happen.
The world’s worst fears have been realized. Putin rationalized this invasion as a peace keeping mission that aims to protect pro-Russian separatist areas in Ukraine’s Donbass region but many claim that this is just an excuse. Some say that he either wants to install a puppet president or separate the country into two parts, with the eastern side being a part of Russia.
Regardless of his reasoning, Putin’s actions have now caused many in Ukraine to flee the country while men aged 18 to 60 have been asked to remain and help fight off the Russians. Countless videos circulating on social media capture the turmoil of the Ukrainian people and their rush to escape their now war-torn home. This includes the mad rush to get aboard trains, the long lines of traffic heading toward the border and crowded scenes in subways. Amidst all of the uproar, there have been reports of students from the African and Caribbean Diasporas being denied the opportunity to leave the country or even reach the borders.
Reports claim that white persons are being prioritized over black persons in train and bus rides, and that Polish authorities prevented black persons from crossing. This claim has been refuted by the Chancellery of the Polish prime minister but it’s hard to argue with the personal accounts and video proof of the students who are experiencing these overt racist actions. The situation shows that even during a war, racism trumps humanity. The black students in Ukraine, though not Ukrainian citizens, are very much in the same danger as Ukrainians. Why then are they not allowed the same privilege of safety and security?
Even news coverage of the crisis seems to be marred by racist or at the very least, ignorant under tones that seek to further propagate the negative perception of persons that do not fit the stereotypical European mold. Reporters have been noted as describing Ukraine as a relatively civilized society as compared to other countries known for war. Ukraine’s deputy chief prosecutor has even said, “it’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed.” This seems to show a preference for blonde hair and blue-eyed persons; those preferred by a very famous fascist from the 20th century.
It appears that some progress has been made getting students out of the country as diplomats have been contacted for their respective countries but the fact that this step needed to be taken, the fact that in a time of crisis there are people who literally have to fend for themselves because racism trumps humanity is quite an awe-inducing and downright perplexing thing. I find it ironic that the president of Ukraine has called on foreigners to aid in the fight for the country when certain subsections of foreigners are not receiving help in return. It is my hope that the rest of us watching take note of this treatment and that we should always be at the ready to support our fellow brothers and sisters when in these areas because, as demonstrated, we may be the only ones they really have.
Renaldo D. Weekes
Video of black students at the Polish border