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Domestically, Black refugees are often controversially associated with the haunting memories of Hurricane Katrina survivors, as if they were somehow less American than those disparaging them. Yet, while Ukrainian citizens and soldiers defend their homeland, in a nearby Poland town called Przemysl, Black Ukrainians and Middle Eastern immigrants refugees are among the thousands still seeking help as Russia attacks.
Education for many international students has been the ticket out of their economically deprived homeland. Fleeing students at Ukrainian universities said they would try to continue their educations elsewhere in Europe rather than return to their native countries.
“Of course I will stay in Europe,” Ahmed Mughni, a 22-year-old from Yemen, said as he warmed himself over a campfire after crossing into Poland at Medyka. Mughni has been studying cybersecurity and radio electronics in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, which Russian strikes pounded on Tuesday, according to ABC News.
“Yemen is also a place of war,” he explained in an interview with The Associated Press. The U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday that some 660,000 refugees had already fled from Ukraine into neighboring countries. There is no exact estimate on the number of Black refugees.
Agency chief Filippo Grandi told the United Nations Security Council “I have worked in refugee crises for almost 40 years and I have rarely seen such an incredibly fast-rising exodus of people — the largest, surely, within Europe, since the Balkan wars.”
Some non-Ukrainians and even Black Ukrainians have complained that they have waited longer in line to cross the Polish border than Ukrainians and in some cases felt treated unfairly.
Where is home for Black Refugees?
Kaneka Agnihotri, an Indian student who has lived in Ukraine for six years, walked six hours without food to the Shehyni border crossing. There, she said, Ukrainian guards humiliated her and a group of other Indians, telling them to stand up and sit down over and over again and getting close to them with guards.
Cihan Yildiray, a 26-year-old from Turkey who has been working in Kyiv, said Ukrainians passed through the border checkpoint more easily. He said he saw Black people and Arabs being beaten by Ukrainian guards.
While some Africans have been able to leave Ukraine, FRANCE 24 reports several students on Sunday at Lviv train station said they were turned back by Ukrainian border guards while attempting to cross into Poland.
“They stopped us at the border and told us that Blacks were not allowed. But we could see White people going through,” said Moustapha Bagui Sylla, a student from Guinea. Black Ukrainians remain an overlooked group within the country.
Racism transcends borders and logic.
Another Black refugee from Nigeria described similar scenes at the border crossing. He said his group, which included women, was shut out of the border post even as White people were let through.
“They won’t let Africans in. Blacks without European passports cannot cross the border (…). They’re pushing us back just because we’re Black!” said the Nigerian student, who gave only his first name, Michael. “We’re all human,” he added. “They should not discriminate against us because of the color of our skin.”
Even in times of war between two very European nations, somehow Blackness remains the enemy as Black Ukrainians seek a safe haven.