Evacuation of foreigners from Ukraine: is there really racial discrimination?
A number of foreign media outlets have reported racism against foreigners trying to evacuate from Ukraine.
For example, a Deutsche Welle correspondent spoke to foreign students at the Polish border who complained that their skin color prevented them from being evacuated. BBC journalist Stephanie Hegarty, who covers migration, said in a statement that foreign students in Lviv were not allowed to board trains to Ukraine’s western borders.
In response to similar reports and complaints of “racism on Ukraine’s borders,” the Nigerian government has called on the Ukrainian authorities and neighboring countries to treat foreigners with dignity and respect their rights, AfricaNews reports.
At the same time, Ukraine’s neighbors say they admit both Ukrainians and foreign students studying in Ukraine. Meanwhile, it is known that now there are general difficulties with the transportation of passengers who want to evacuate from the “hot” cities, as well as when crossing the state border in western Ukraine. Many people are waiting in line for days, which sometimes reach 15 km. Also, not everyone manages to get on a train to leave Ukrainian cities, reports BBC News.
ZMINA spoke with Ukrainians and foreigners, who were the last to be evacuated, to find out if such discrimination was widespread, and to find out how to prevent it.
In a comment to ZMINA, Nigerian student Oleksandr Somto, who studied management at the State University of Telecommunications in Kyiv, said he had no claims against ordinary Ukrainians and had not experienced any racism from them. However, the man, who traveled to Warsaw for three days, complains about the police.
“When we tried to get on the train in Kyiv, we were told about the priority for children and women. And it’s perfect. This is how it should be during the war. No one checked passports. There were other criteria by which you could get on the train. But African women were not chosen for the train. So we started shouting that these are pregnant women and women with children. Why can’t they board the train? Why do they choose only white people?” Somto said, adding that after the quarrel, African women were allowed to get on a train.
According to him, a similar situation happened at the Lviv railway station.
“There, at the post, the militiaman told whom to go in which direction. Foreigners were asked to pass in one direction, Ukrainians in the other. I did not see that foreigners went there,” Somto added.
In addition, according to him, on the Ukrainian-Polish border near Shehyni-Medyka, Ukrainian border guards told Arabs and Africans to go to the entry-exit checkpoints with Romania, because, according to them, they were open.
Serge Nyangi, who helps Congolese students receive scholarships to study in Ukraine, considers the accusations of racism exaggerated.
“There are people trying to climb over barriers, some fighting with security. If you see what is happening there, you will understand that the security guards cannot choose who to let through”, he said in a telephone interview with DW Ukraine on Monday, February 28.
Manuel Assunsao, an Angolan student in Ukraine, said part of the problem was the general chaos inside the country because so many people were fleeing.
“We watched tanks pass by and bombs fell. This is normal when people are stressed. Ukrainians were giving the way to Ukrainians because there was confusion”, he told DW on Monday.
ZMINA journalist Natalia Adamovich, who left Kyiv for the Polish city of Gdansk, also called the allegations of racism exaggerated, at least in some cases.
She spoke about the situation she witnessed herself. She and her daughter arrived at the Krakovets checkpoint on the Polish border at 5 pm on February 26. Most of the people there were mothers with children and women. However, there were many foreign men.
According to her, customs officers and border guards tried to put things in order in front of the checkpoint, because people were in a state close to panic.
At the same time, a group of black men, about 10 people, refused to allow pregnant women and women with small children to cut the line and pass before them. Despite the fact that others silently made way for them in the queue.
“This group of foreigners blocked the gate, tried to climb over the fence… They shouted that they were not allowed out of Ukraine because of their skin color. However, the attitude towards them was the same as towards other men – women first, then you. They did not agree and continued to block the gate” the journalist said.
After that, customs officers stopped letting anyone through. Only occasionally – they let through children who were feeling extremely unwell.
After ten hours of standing, law enforcement officers finally arrived. They divided people into groups: pregnant and mothers with small children, mothers with children over 5 years old, just women, men. In two hours everyone was let thought.
“These foreigners insisted that they should be let through first. But they were calmly told that during the war everyone has equal rights. And the queue moved in order. So in my opinion, the allegations of racism, at least in Krakow, are unfounded. Because this is no longer about race, but about humanity and decency during the war”, – Natalia Adamovych pointed out.
Olympic champion in Greco-Roman wrestling and a Member of the Parliament of Ukraine Zhan Beleniuk appeals to leaders of all African countries because of “wide propaganda spreading about racism”. He points out that it is not true, that there is racism in Ukraine.
“Ukraine is a tolerant state, and does not have any pressing racial issues. I would like to appeal to all the representatives of the African republics to condemn the execution, the killing of civilians and children, bombating of the cities of Ukraine, all committed by Russia. We are in the critical need of comprehensive assistance”, – said Zhan Beleniuk.
Few human rights organizations have issued a statement on the evacuation of foreign students from various cities in Ukraine. They point out that the situation on the Ukrainian-Polish border in recent days remains extremely tense for all those who try to cross it, regardless of citizenship.
The cause of this crisis is the shelling of cities and ground invasions throughout Ukraine, shootings and terrorist attacks by the Russian army in cities in the north, east and south regions of the country.
The human rights community notes that Ukraine is doing everything possible to overcome this crisis. In particular, additional humanitarian trains were launched and four additional checkpoints were opened. Government agencies and NGOs are creating additional infrastructure to meet the basic needs of citizens of all countries near border crossings.
Among other things, human rights activists emphasize that Ukraine has restricted the possibility of leaving Ukraine only for Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 due to active martial law and mobilization requirements. As for foreign citizens, there are no restrictions: both women and men can leave Ukraine, and the Ukrainian side does not interfere in this matter.
Due to the difficult situation at the border, there is currently no separate “green corridor” for foreigners leaving the country, the statement said. They join the common queue of women and children. The number of people forced to leave is so large that the infrastructure of crossing the border can barely cope with the load, and people, despite their ethnic origin and citizenship, sometimes have to wait in line for days.
Ukrainian lawyers don’t believe in systemic racism by the Ukrainian government.
“We received some messages about people that were prohibited to board evacuation trains or to join the evacuation queue. Situations like these can really happen during military evacuation and dire humanitarian situations due to general stress and fear of people who are being evacuated. But it has nothing to do with official rules or policies of the Ukrainian government”, said their statement.
Lawyers also know about problems that arise from neighboring EU countries. Some of them refuse to accept refugees that are not citizens of Ukraine or Europe and do not have visas to enter the EU. It adds to panic and despair among non-EU citizens that are trapped on the border and provokes conflicts on checkpoints.
Lawyers are asking neighboring countries to open their borders for citizens of all countries that have to flee Ukraine due to the Russian invasion.
They сall on all sides, both local and national governments, to prevent any occurences of personal or institutional discrimination, xenophobia or racism during this crisis and to provide support to members of underrepresented or historically marginalized groups that are currently located in Ukraine.
“We are incredibly grateful to all the volunteers and humanitarian organizations from both sides of the border for their support of people who became victims. Your work is invaluable and vitally important. We call on you to continue and, if possible, expand your support and pay attention to possible special needs of all those in need, especially foreign citizens that are forced to leave Ukraine due to actions of Russian occupants”, said the statement.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Official position
Ukraine’s government spares no effort to evacuate African students from Ukraine, argues Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba.
Kuleba tweeted on his page: “Africans seeking evacuation are our friends and need to have equal opportunities to return to their home countries safely“.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine has also published an extended statement. The Government of Ukraine is arguing that Russian armed aggression is the one responsible for killings and hurting innocent people, destroying civil infrastructure and creating obstacles for foreign citizens for their safe return to their countries.
The Ukrainian border guards in cooperation with colleagues from neighboring EU countries and Moldova are doing everything possible to speed up the passage of all citizens from Ukraine and have never created obstacles that would hinder this.
According to them, The Ukrainian border guards in cooperation with colleagues from neighboring EU countries and Moldova are doing everything possible to speed up the passage of all citizens from Ukraine and have never created obstacles that would hinder this.
The Ministry wishes to advise that all checkpoints on the western border are open 24 hours a day. Checks and check-in operations have been simplified as much as possible and the list of necessary documents has been minimized.
“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”, emphasizing the Ministry.
They explained, 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.
All people at the border are asked to comply with law and order and to act responsibly in light of the challenging situation. This will allow the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine to speed up the border crossing process. Those who are crossing are asked to have documents ready and to be as organized as possible.
In addition, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine asks that those crossing show mutual respect and understanding to everyone at the border during this extremely difficult time.
“State Border Guard Service of Ukraine is open day and night from all directions to speed up border crossing as safely as possible”, – stated the Ministry.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine launched an emergency hotline for foreign students who are willing to leave Ukraine. Please, use Viber or Telegram:
+380 93418 56 84
For Chinese citizens: (为中国公民的联系方式)：
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
There is a questionnaire for foreigners to collect main information about students and their location to consult them about options for evacuation.
If you know any foreigners who are in Ukraine, the Human Rights Center ZMINA is asking you to share with them an emergency hotline and a questionnaire to the form.
If you know any volunteers who are helping to evacuate foreign students, inform us via email firstname.lastname@example.org, by sending name and contacts.