Africa should do more for those stranded in Ukraine

An African woman tries to find some clothes for herself as refugees from many different countries - from Africa, Middle East and India - mostly students of Ukrainian universities are seen at the Medyka pedestrian border crossing fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, in eastern Poland on February 27, 2022. PHOTO / AFP

What you need to know:

The issue: Africans in Ukraine.

Our view: AU member states should act with a single voice and make sure all their citizens fleeing the conflict have the same right to safe passage. What those stranded students need is transport and passage from the warzone.

Thursday marked a week since Russia invaded Ukraine. As of day eight, Russian forces had taken control of the Black Sea city of Kherson, the first after a string of military setbacks.

Russia also made public the toll the war has had on its troops. Moscow said it had lost close to 500 soldiers since the incursion into Ukraine on the morning of February 24. Ukraine says 2,870 of its troops have also been killed. The UN has recorded at least 227 civilian deaths.

The number of people fleeing Ukraine also hit one million on Thursday, with the UN calling it “the fastest exodus of people this century”. But as all this was happening, there was a hashtag trending on social media: #AfricansinUkraine.

Under the hashtag, Africans in Ukraine, mostly students, gave horrifying accounts of the discrimination and abuse they faced while trying to escape the violence.

In one of the videos that made rounds, a group of Africans are left stranded as a train is captured leaving the station. They were blocked from boarding by Ukrainian officials simply because they are Black.

In another video, a policeman shoves aside an African woman trying to board the train before way is created for a White woman.

The chaotic scene is recorded by a male with a West African accent who screams, “They are not letting the Black girl go, they are pushing her. Is it right?”

In another heart-wrenching video, a young woman is filmed feeding a baby amid a group of stranded Africans in the dead of night.

The woman is kneeling in the open, under freezing temperatures, as the man recording narrates that Black people were not being allowed beyond the gate on the border with Poland; only Ukrainians were being allowed in.

There are reports of Africans, South Asians and people from the Middle East being attacked and abused both in Ukraine and the neighbouring countries.

These heartbreaking images and cries on social media prompted the African Union (AU) and UN to come out with statements condemning racism and discrimination against people trying to flee the violence. But this is not enough.

About 16,000 African students were studying in the country before the invasion. Uganda alone had About 100 students.

AU member states should act with a single voice and make sure all their citizens fleeing the conflict have the same right to safe passage.

What those stranded students need is transport and passage from the warzone, not tweets and statements.

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