As the third week of the Russian assault on Ukraine begins, the treatment of African refugees in Ukraine remains at the forefront. When the war started, efforts by African and African descendant students and families to escape the confrontation were met with a race-based pushback often caught on video and uploaded to social media sites.

When viewed abroad, it led many to act.

“I’m a volunteer from London,” explains Damilare Arah, a British Nigerian tech designer who has worked in project management and as a business development manager. Damilare explained to the AmNews that he woke up on Thursday, Feb. 24 to find out that Ukraine had been attacked. “So, on Thursday and Friday I tried my best to understand the situation fully and to see how best I fit into all of this. And then Saturday I heard…I was just trying to get to grips with understanding how all of this would affect Africa and the businesses and the economies and other things, because I was hearing reports that there’s massive oil wells that Putin might want underneath Ukraine, in the area of Donbass. But that’s when one of my mentors told me that there’s Africans in Ukraine.

“I heard that Africans were being racially profiled, abused and being pushed back in queues for the sake of other Europeans. So, from then I kicked into a crisis management mode. I know that many people didn’t know that there were Africans in Ukraine so the first thing I had to do was get everybody to know and understand their situation.”

By Saturday, Feb. 26, Damilare had republished photos and videos of Ukrainians blocking Africans from getting on trains under the hashtag AfricansinUkraine. He says he double checked and verified that the videos were taken and recorded on the day they were reported. “The first thing I did was help the community understand that we’ve got to be clean and clear about this situation—that nobody’s going to be able to save us in this instance and we have to all work together to be able to get the message out there.”

By Feb. 27, the rapper Young Thug had seen the posts and announced on Instagram that he was ready to support the African refugees. “If some of my rap brothers are in, I’m willing to help Africans get out of Ukraine,” he wrote, “however I can sense [sic] they not letting us pass. 

“Whoever holds the info for these movements please contact me ASAP,” he added: “I’m ready.”

The singer Beyoncé also expressed concern via her non-profit BEYGOOD, which posted the contact information for embassies with students in Ukraine.  

Vukile Dlamini, a medical student from Eswatini who had been studying in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, was able to escape the conflict. She recently helped create the Coalition to Support Black People in Ukraine which is designed to collect goods and funds and help Blacks in Ukraine relocate. According to their GoFundMe page, the Coalition had raised $92,588 towards its $100,000 goal by March 14. “This GoFundMe will help the students there and the ones that are outside of Ukraine,” said Dlamini. “The GoFundMe will also help some of the students whose governments are not helping them with the flight tickets and everything.”

Jamaica is the only Caribbean Community member that had students in Ukraine. After an initial outcry when the government informed their 20 Jamaican students in Ukraine that they were eligible to receive loans to pay for their airfare to get back home, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs flew the students home at government expense. Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina J. Smith announced that counseling will be made available for all of the students.

On the online messaging app Telegram, people have been organizing by joining specific groups or channels. The #Volunteers Black Foreigners in Ukraine channel listed some of the supplies they are trying to collect, such as first-aid kits, non-perishable foods, light sticks, flashlights, socks, radios, hand warmers, toe warmers, body warmers, water, tents, blankets; jackets, gloves, and hats; charged portable chargers, lighters, and power banks. While in the group #Afro@Ukraine info hub, one person used the hashtag iloveblackpeople to ask for “help…in identifying safe places for our fellow Africans in Ukraine.” The posting noted that “I love Black people movement is not promoting any business our main objective of recommending safe places is to help and protect Black people from racism and xenophobia.”

More people concerned about the situation recently came together under the Health N Communication (HNC) room on the audio app Clubhouse to discuss how racism is manifesting during this humanitarian crisis. Those in the room strategized about how to coordinate assistance.

Shireen Mitchell, founder of Stop Online Violence Against Women Inc. (SOVAW), told the HNC discussion: “In the beginning there was a disinformation campaign that was targeted on not only Black Americans but Africans that was telling people that any stories, any videos that were coming from Africans or anyone on the ground who had a different hue from the Ukrainians, that their videos were not to be believed. I’m not going to deny that some of those videos were being manipulated and used for other agendas, but what was happening was happening.

The racism displayed in the videos “has been used to try to discredit or weaponize any support to Ukrainians who deserve that support, who are asking for their sovereignty,” Mitchell added. “It is something that they have been fighting for for quite some time. This has a historical framework: Putin has been very rarely able to tell the truth; we just saw this with the humanitarian corridors where it was deemed to be safe for people to go through and…the students who were at the Sumy University tried to leave and were fired upon. That did happen. 

“We now know that an African American basketball player is in Russia locked up because of assumed drug infractions. I’m only saying that story because before that people were telling Black and Brown people to go to towards Russia to get out of Ukraine and I have said several times…do not send Black people to Russia or Belarus: I wasn’t saying that just to be saying it nicely, I was saying that because one of the things that you don’t want to be doing is sending people who are trying to get out of harm’s way to [a place where they would] be in harm’s way.”

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