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Racism at the Ukrainian Border: A reminder that racism doesn’t pause in times of war

Picture this: your country has been invaded because the leader of the neighbouring country feels threatened by democracy. So, you decide to flee your home, the town you grew up in out of hope for a better future in another country. After gathering the little possessions, you could stuff in a rucksack you make your way to the boarder and once you get there you board a public transit bus making its way to Poland. But before the engine even starts, you’re ordered off the bus and told to stand aside as you watch the bus drive off with only white Ukrainian nationals on board. 

This is the reality lived by Black Africans, Indian and Pakistani nationals, and people of Middle Eastern descent. Not only are people of colour living and studying in Ukraine being prevented from crossing the border, but they are also pushed to the back of transportation queues delaying their passage to safety out of Ukraine and being denied access to Ukrainian bomb shelters. People of colour in Ukraine are being denied of the fundamental human right to equal treatment, asylum, and freedom from torture. This mistreatment is despicable but it’s not surprising. 

As a Black woman, I am no stranger to racism, having often experienced it within spaces that seem safe. But there are no spaces exempt to racism, as recent events have shown even battle grounds allow neo-colonialism to thrive. The level of discrimination that Asian and African students are facing at the border between Ukraine and Poland seems to have taken the rest of the west by surprise. It’s like people have forgotten the racist history that exists within Eastern Europe. Whilst Ukraine is a multi-ethnic country in the past ethnic minorities living in Ukraine have been discriminated against based upon their race. In recent years, ultra-nationalist parties have gained a great amount of attention on social media. This rise of small nationalist parties on social media has encouraged violent attacks of racism. Furthermore, discrimination against East Asians living in Ukraine was more evident at the peak of COVID-19. However, as the population of East Asians is significantly less than Africans and Indians in the country, criminal and violent racist attacks against East Asians have not gained as much attention as other European countries like the UK. 

Not only has Russia’s invasion on Ukraine showcased Putin’s egotistical need for power and control. But the discrimination minority students and people living in Ukraine have faced at the country’s border show that racism has taken precedent over human rights. Ukrainian and Polish authority hold a belief that they are superior to people of colour in Ukraine. This racial superiority is not new both in Ukraine and Europe as a whole. The colonial and imperial empire ran by European countries established the ideology of racial superiority and white supremacy, and after the end of the colonial empire its teachings still exist today. 

In the past year, liberal society has advocated for anti-racism for people to be actively against discrimination and racism targeted towards minority ethnic groups. And so, this discriminatory behaviour at the Ukrainian borders must be condemned. Furthermore, US and UK media outlets have blatantly shown prejudice towards Ukraine’s situation in comparison to wars and invasions taking place in non-western countries. Once again proving that the West still holds its colonial teachings of racial superiority. Racism in all contexts, even when there is conflict and people are suffering must be condemned. Obviously, Ukraine deserves sympathy, but we cannot ignore discriminatory behaviour that prevents ethnic minorities their human right to asylum and freedom of torture. 

Image courtesy of UN Women Europe and Central Asia via Flickr