Amidst bombings of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, foreign students attempting to flee the country have reported facing discrimination and racist violence at the border. These student refugees are claiming that they’re not being allowed onto buses and trains, turned away at the Polish border, or left stranded without food or shelter in unsafe areas.
At least 660,000 people fled Ukraine in the first few days following the start of Russia’s attacks. Most are Ukrainians, but some are students or immigrant workers from Africa, Asia, and other regions who are also desperate to flee the country.
Their reports of cruelty and racist discrimination have been picked up on social media and by other news outlets, with people posting videos of the cramped buses and train cars heading out of the main cities. The hashtag #AfricansinUkraine began to fill with haunting stories of African students being beaten with batons, thrown off trains, and restrained at ports to Poland in favor of Ukrainian nationals. Some have posted resources and links online to help these refugees on social media.
In an interview with TIME, Kenyan medical student Abdirahim Syleiman said they were separating foreigners at the border according to race. These students were completely shocked and left waiting in the cold for hours upon hours, forced to walk while white Ukrainians were allowed onto buses headed toward the border.
The Ukrainian government has dismissed allegations of racial discrimination against foreign students as “Russian disinformation,” but there have been several reports on social media about foreign students being subjected to racist discrimination by local law enforcement as they try to escape Russian attacks.
In an interview with FRANCE 24, Moustapha Bagui Sylla, a student from Guinea, said they were stopped at the border and told that Blacks were not allowed, all while they saw white people going through.
Even amidst war, racism knows no bounds, and these students and workers are not being treated fairly. African students make up 20% of Ukraine’s foreign student population and their presence in the country was much higher in the 1950s when the former Soviet Union began recruiting African students and granting them scholarships at their universities.
This only shows how pervasive racism is in our world – that people trying to find safety in a country they chose to live in are still being treated inhumanely. Until the Ukrainian and Russian governments can fairly provide resources to all of their citizens, this will only perpetuate racism in these countries. War is a time where we need to work and be strong together, and this purposeful segregation is completely at odds with this.