While tens of thousands of Ukrainians try to escape violence amid their country’s conflict with Russia, African immigrants in Ukraine said they have been blocked from fleeing the country because of their skin color.
Videos circulating on social media show Ukrainian authorities forming human barriers between African immigrants and Ukrainians, hindering Africans from getting on the trains out of the country. Even after making it to neighboring countries, Africans must reportedly wait while Ukrainians cross first.
Ghanaian medical student Gifty Naana Mensah told the Globe and Mail she spent two days waiting at the Polish-Ukrainian border with no food and little water.
“To be honest, there was a lot of racism,” Mensah said. “Because the Ukrainians always came first, even though we Africans would be there for days and sometimes three days with no food. Everyone was just exhausted. Any time Ukrainians came, they told us to go back. They were shouting at us, ‘go back.’ It was really crazy.”
After eight years of tensions between Russia and Ukraine, Russia launched its invasion on Ukraine on Feb. 24. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the attack of the neighboring country over fears the country would join NATO, which he believes is a threat for Russia. Putin also thinks that Ukraine is illegally occupying land that is part of Russia.
Hundreds of people are reportedly dead since Russia started invading Ukraine on Thursday. Officials said more than 1,100 people in Ukraine have been wounded. Thousands more have been trying to flee to neighboring countries.
The head of the United Nations refugee agency Filippo Grandi said more than 50,000 Ukrainian refugees have left Ukraine.
According to the caption for a video at the train station, tweeted by African Facts Zone, Africans had to wait until all Ukrainians board trains before they could get into one. In a video posted on Twitter on Monday, a Ukrainian officer is seen pushing a Black girl off a train.
Others have alleged that they are being blocked from planes and their passports have been seized. Families and children as young as two months are waiting outside in temperatures as cold as three degrees.
A man can be heard on a video saying, “They are not allowing any Black people to enter inside the gates. It’s only Ukrainians that they’re allowing in, even ones with kids, they’re not allowing in. Nobody is talking to us.”
Another video shows more than two dozen Africans huddled in a basement reportedly without heat.
One South African immigrant in the group told reporters they were stranded without transportation to get to the border. She also fears they could lose internet and cell service, and is now using any opportunity they have to seek help.
“We have to put on all the blankets, all the jackets that we have on, and you know that we are also trying to escape, so there’s only so much we can carry with us,” the South African immigrant said.
Some Africans have resorted to walking for hours to get to the border. New videos also show African students lifting their arms and begging armed law enforcement officials not to shoot.
“We are students. We are students,” they shouted to the armed men.
South African and Nigerian officials said they are doing all they can to get their citizens, primarily students, out of the country. About 20 percent of Ukraine’s international students are African, according to Deutsche Well. About 4,000 students are Nigerian, the paper said.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is fully abreast of all the challenges Nigerians crossing into countries bordering Ukraine, especially the Polish border, are facing, and we are taking adequate measures to assuage these challenges,” Nigeria minister of Foreign Affairs Gabriel Aduba, said in a statement Sunday.
Aduba said he spoke to Ukraine’s foreign affairs minister about the “unsavory developments, and both are working on alleviating the suffering of Nigerians, including deploying the International Organization for Migration to the border to ensure easier access to all Nigerians and other nationals.”
Aduba said Hungarian, Somanian Suceava, Tulcea, Satu Mare County and Maramures borders have granted visa-free access to Nigerians fleeing Ukraine.
Video shows there are three refugee camps in Poland, where refugees can get shelter, food and a warm bed.
Russian and Ukrainian delegates are scheduled to meet Monday. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky reportedly has low expectations for the meeting.
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