Appalling racism comes to the fore as Russia invades Ukraine

People waiting on a train platform in Ukraine
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Footage and reports suggest People of Colour trying to flee the Russian assault on Ukraine have been blocked from routes of escape. And some western media outlets have been grotesquely characterising the conflict as exceptional because it’s happening within a ‘civilised’ country.

These are some of the appalling examples of racist actions and rhetoric that have been on display amid the conflict.

“No Blacks”

Videos circulated on social media suggested that People of Colour trying to board trains or get through borders have been struggling to do so. The #AfricansinUkraine hashtag showed some distressing footage:

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There have been reports of South Asian people struggling to escape Ukraine as well:


A father-of-three trying to leave via bus, meanwhile, told the Independent that his family and others were forced to get off at a border crossing. He said he was told “no Blacks” and commented:

In all of my years as an activist, I have never seen anything like this. When I look into the eyes of those who are turning us away, I see bloodshot racism; they want to save themselves and they are losing their humanity in the process.

Moreover, Insider reported that there are thousands of African students in the country, many of whom are receiving little help to leave from their respective embassies. Medical student Korrine Sky also told the outlet that travelling to potential exit points within the country has proved difficult for some, saying:

Some people have gone to get buses, but they’re not allowing Black people basically onto the buses. They’re prioritizing Ukrainians. That’s what they say

On Twitter, Sky described her and others’ efforts to leave Ukraine in detail. She said that during their long drives to border crossings, they encountered lots of police and military who regularly asked to see people’s documentation. At the border crossing into Romania, she said “local Ukrainians” were aggressive and trying to obstruct their journey onwards:

Sky said the military ultimately turned them away:


Racism isn’t only apparent in the treatment of People of Colour trying to flee Ukraine, though. It’s also all over TV screens and in written reporting on the conflict.

Repeatedly, news reports have suggested there’s some kind of exceptionalism in the situation because white, western people are the victims. An ITV News reporter, for example, spoke about the “unthinkable” happening to Ukranians. She stressed that “this is not a developing, third world nation; this is Europe”:

CBS News made a similar comparison, with the added emphasis that Ukraine is “relatively civilised” compared to nations such as Iraq or Afghanistan:

The CBS News correspondent, Charlie D’Agata, has since apologised.

The Telegraph, meanwhile, gave a platform to the UK peer Daniel Hannan to write about the conflict as an “attack on civilisation itself”. His article began with the words: “They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking”.

These commentators don’t seem to care that Iraq is widely known as the cradle of civilisation, as it’s where the first elaborate urban centres appeared.

An NBC News correspondent also asserted that Poland is welcoming many people fleeing Ukraine because they “are Christians, they’re white” and “not refugees from Syria”:

And French media in particular seems to be having a field day:

The BBC, meanwhile, failed to call out Ukraine’s ex-deputy prosecutor general David Sakvarelidze when he talked about how emotional it was to see “European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed”:

It’s always the time

As one social media commentator highlighted, some are arguing that now ‘isn’t the time’ to raise the issue of racism:

But we must confront racism wherever, and whenever, it appears. And racism is very evident in the accounts from People of Colour about what they’re experiencing in Ukraine. It’s also apparent in the assertions being made in western outlets.

They’ve characterised the conflict as exceptional because of where, and to whom, it’s happening. And this fuels a narrative that it’s somehow less devastating or consequential when war strikes elsewhere, namely in poorer countries with majority populations of People of Colour.

Featured image via screengrab / Twitter

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