Long Reads Opinion

The struggle of Afrikans in Ukraine is the struggle of our people across the world

Black volunteers, organizations, and countries have stepped up helping, fundraising, and working to protect, support, and rescue thousands of Afrikan nationals (other nationals) including students, graduates, and their families in Ukraine who have found themselves caught in the middle of this brutal conflict. Afrikan students went to Ukraine to further their studies at affordable costs, advance their careers, and in some cases marry Ukraine nationals and have children. Since the invasion, many Afrikans want to get out of Ukraine and have made connections on Twitter through hashtags like #AfricansinUkraine and #BlackinUkraine, sharing their stories, raising awareness, and swapping information.

After exasperating days and weeks of survival, many have managed to leave Ukraine. In Nigeria according to The Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, 1,500 Nigerians have returned to Nigeria. Yet interviews with students show that many, maybe upward of a 100, are still trapped “living a nightmare” in cities besieged by Russians such as Kherson and Mariupol. With one man’s video going viral, Stanley Tany an African student in Ukraine filmed himself allegedly being pushed out of a police station in Ukraine after being chased by Neo Nazis. Another Afrikan, Korrine Sky, manage to escape and set up a nonprofit campaign organization and two Black women reached out to her to help. The organization is called Black Women for Black Lives (BW4BL) and it has raised over $150,000. Helping “more than 500 Black students” successfully flee Ukraine by “funding transport costs, like arranging taxis and other emergency needs.” Several Afrikan countries, such as Zanzibar and Egypt, have guaranteed stays for stranded Ukrainian tourists, accomodating them and finding ways to help the families.

“Make no mistake. The White supremacist press would rather sweep these international human rights violations under the carpet as irrelevant to their relentless one-sided White-centering narrative of a war that’s ‘alien’ to ‘civilized’ ‘Christian… White’ Europe than tell the whole story of Afrikans dying at the Ukraine-Poland border”

Since the crises began, the Whitestream media have, apart from a few journalists, mostly of color, been slow, selective, and uneven-handed in their coverage of Afrikans in Ukraine, not to mention racist in their own narration of events. A European humanitarian crisis within a crisis, the White supremacist press continues to underreport, downplay and disregard the disturbances and disclosures made by Afrikans of abuse, abandonment, and discrimination suffered struggling to leave one European country and to enter another. They are suffering largely at the hands of border security forces including Ukrainian and Polish authorities. At the same time, they ran a “Ukrainians first” policy, despite them having no more right to travel to the EU than an Afrikan because neither are part of the EU or the Schengen area.

Make no mistake. The White supremacist press would rather sweep these international human rights violations under the carpet as irrelevant to their relentless one-sided White-centering narrative of a war that’s “alien” to “civilized” “Christian… White” Europe than tell the whole story of Afrikans dying at the Ukraine-Poland border.

Fortunately, MIP is committed to highlighting these issues that matter and underlining their specific relevance to our communities. So here’s a historical dive to help clear up some of the confusion we have of the situation that has been caused by the Whitestream media’s propaganda machine and to stay conscious of the struggles of Afrikan people.

“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses”

Malcolm X

Russia-NATO relations

In understanding the history of this Russia-Ukraine conundrum, we have to go back to the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945 at the end of World War II when national lines were drawn in the division of Europe. From that point on, most of Eastern Europe came under the sway of the Soviet Union. This grouping was known as the Eastern or Soviet Bloc nations.

In 1949 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a Western military coalition, was formed as an anti-Soviet alliance. NATO was ostensibly created by the US and several Western European allied nations to halt and put in check any Soviet Union (USSR – now Russia Federation) military aggression in Western Europe. In response, the Soviet Union formed the Warsaw Pact, an Eastern military alliance. The battle between these two alliances characterized most of the Cold War in Europe.

“it should be clear that looking at this brutal conflict in easy moral terms as a war between democracy versus authoritarianism is lazy and misleading”

In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell, two years later the Cold War, and USSR collapsed – finding itself in a weakened position. During the major negotiations of the German reunification process, Russia was given the impression by the West that NATO would not take advantage of the USSR’s withdrawal from Eastern Europe, the subsequent dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, and the Eastern Bloc countries’ independence from the USSR. Instead, the US and its allies exploited the USSR’s vulnerability, and Eastern Europe violated its commitments. NATO began to come back on its promises, offering Eastern European nations deals, money, and inclusion into the European Union (EU), and it began an eastward expansion. However, post-Soviet Russia had managed to draw the line at any NATO encroachment on Georgia, Ukraine, Crimea, and the Balkans. Russia said that if NATO tried to go into these states, turn their economic interests to the West and make them anti-Russian and pro-American, Russia would react. A reaction that would destabilize the entire EU security.

In 2008 at the NATO Bucharest Summit, the president of Russia, Vladamir Putin (Евге́ний Приго́жин) was candid in reiterating the warning that any further eastward movement of NATO and the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO, constituted a vital threat to Russian security interests. He offered a deal to keep Ukraine and other Russia bordering nations neutral. Proffering to bring up their living standards and economies to avert them from doing deals with the West (which they were doing privately). Despite this warning, NATO and the EU begin to move their missiles, armaments, and weapons further and further towards the borders and frontiers of post-Soviet Russia. This was a provocative expansion to post-Soviet Russia. So Russia invaded and annexed Crimea (2008), a semi-autonomous province in Ukraine, and invaded bordering state Georgia (2014).

In 2014, after two decades of eastward expansion by NATO, a crisis was triggered in the form of the Maidan protests. The protests led to the Maidan Revoltion when Ukraine’s democratically elected pro-Russian neutralist government was overthrown in a US and European imperialist-backed coup. An unelected US-selected government was installed that later signed the EU and International Monetary Fund agreements, and Ukraine effectively lost its sovereignty. The people who brought down the government were made of many ordinary people. However, there were a number of far-right nationalist groups, such as the Azov Movement with links to Neo-nazis, who were the loudest and most violent, particularly in the confrontations with the police.

Now, it should be clear that looking at this brutal conflict in easy moral terms as a war between democracy versus authoritarianism is lazy and misleading. The historical evidence clarifies that this is a harrowing war about many things that are far more complex to grasp, particularly for those of us outside the region. At play, there’s power politics, economic competition, the global far-right, racial capitalism, colonial nostalgia, traditionalism, oligarchic conservatism and nationalism, imperialism, and more. Essentially, it’s about Russia’s beliefs in its inherent right to assert itself in its areas of privileged interest and US belief and fulfillment of its own policy of full-spectrum dominance. It should also be clear that when we understand their role in Europe and Africa that our interests lie not in the US and NATO or Russia and the Soviet Union.

It’s also tempting to romanticize Soviet Russia because of its historical role in supporting Black liberation movements, but not when we understand its former colonial empire and Putin’s colonial nostalgia (not to mention racism towards Central and North Asian Indigenous populations). The boundaries of the “former” Soviet Union were not just random economic and political borders. In fact, they reflected a more profound cultural community, which is one rationale for asserting themselves around the West’s incursion into the former union today. Putin believes that Ukraine and Russia are “one people” who have the same spirit.

Russia and the US are all up in Afrika

Russia and the US have an Afrikan strategy; both compete in an asymmetric race to expand their influence on the continent because it is a key resource for oil and other minerals. Between 2015 and 2019, Moscow signed 19 military collaboration agreements with African governments, focussing largely on weapon sales, and Russia’s influence centers on the use of PMCs, AKA Putin’s “private army,” on the continent to train, instruct and protect local governments and counter militancy. The US revealed its intentions in Africa when it launched Africom in 2007, a neocolonial organization with a “colonizing” mission to ostensibly “bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa,” according to former president George Bush.

“the simple fact is that they’re both more motivated by mineral wealth and other strategic assets than bringing peace and security to the continent”

One PMC, in particular, is the Wagner Group, seen as an extension of the Kremlin and reportedly funded by Kremlin-linked oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin. Deployed across Afrika (including Sudan, Mozambique, Madagascar, Central African Republic, and Mali), Wagner focuses chiefly on protecting governing elites and essential infrastructures. In addition, Wagner purports to redress complex local military and terrorism conflicts with which African governments have struggled. In return, Russia seeks payment in concessions for natural resources, substantial commercial contracts, or access to strategic locations, such as airbases or ports.

In reality, Vladimir Putin aims to foster Afrikan dependencies on Moscow’s military assets and access African resources, targeting nations with vulnerable governments that are usually rich in vital raw materials, such as oil, gold, diamonds, uranium, and manganese. In addition, PMCs prop up governments aligned with Moscow and act as an intelligence source for the Kremlin.

For example, take Mali, where the West and Russia engage in disinformation wars to expose the motives of the other for being in Afrika. Russia pushes disinformation about France’s counterterrorism operations in Mali, crafting them as a facade for mining the Sahel’s uranium riches and as neocolonialism cloaked as counterterrorism. While the US pushes disinformation about Russian PMCs’ destabilization of the continent, ravaging for resources, and running off with the profits.

It might appear the West is telling the truth, and Russia isn’t, or vice versa. However, the simple fact is that they’re both more motivated by mineral wealth and other strategic assets than bringing peace and security to the continent. That, in order to curry favor and keep their claws on the continent, they have to send for each other.

In a recent article by the Washington Post following the expulsion of the French ambassador, Afrikans outside the embassy embraced the Russian influence, with Afrikans waving Russian flags and burned cardboard cut-outs of French President Emmanuel Macron.

Sidiki Magassouba, a 52-year-old energy company staffer, said, “The anti-French feeling is more than boiling today. It is France who pushed us into Russia’s arms.”

“Russians, Wagner — we don’t care who they are,” Bassadiki, a 46-year-old incense seller. “If it means we will get our peace, we would follow Satan.”

Ukrainian Refugees welcomed while Afrikan migrants unwanted everywhere

Stories and videos of racist treatment against Afrkan “foreign migrants” by the West versus their fair treatment of their White Ukrainian “neighbors” are also important piece of the puzzle and paint the picture of our situation, reality, and the disparity in treatment we receive in this so-called international human rights system. While the whole world, including the Afrikan continent, is opening its borders in a friendly manner to those fleeing Ukraine, Ukraine-Poland borders officials were blocking and herding Black (Arab and Indian) folx at the border like a chattel. Where’s the welcoming of Black and Brown migrants and refugees fleeing colonialism worldwide? Like in Libya, where they are targets of violence and sources of free labor, or the US-Mexico border where Afrikans are brutalized? Poland has a clear preference for keeping refugees who don’t look White abandoned on their borders, such as families seeking asylum in the EU from Syria, Afghanistan, Congo-Brazzaville, and Iraq who are pushed back from the Belarusian-Polish border in another refugee-border crisis, which Poland is attempting to snap back on by building a wall.

Unfortunately, there are too many testimonies of discrimination to write of what’s happened over these past weeks. However, here’s a checkpoint-round-up of some direct accounts to illustrate the horrific journey these Afrikan people are going through. This. Is. Not. Russian. Propaganda… contrary to the mass gaslighting of Ukraine and Polish officials initially coming out that this anti-Black racism was a part of a “Russian disinformation campaign.” While it is true that Russia has been amplifying such stories to play up to audiences and further racial divisions and racial discourse to weaken the body politic in the West – and it’s not the first time – this racism in Ukraine is real.

“While the whole world, including the Afrikan continent, is opening its borders in a friendly manner to those fleeing Ukraine, Ukraine-Poland borders officials were blocking and herding Black (Arab and Indian) folx at the border like a chattel”

Evacuation: “No Blacks,” only Ukrainians and dogs

When war broke out, Afrikans were making their way to the border by any means necessary. Many Afrikans were threatened, exhorted, and hit by police or knocked off trains and shoved while trying to escape. Jessica Orakpo, a 23-year old Nigerian sixth-year medical student who lived in Ukraine for seven years, calling it her home, told The Voice of her experience trying to catch a bus from a shelter to the Ukraine-Poland border. When she got to the bus stop, she discovered White people and animals were only being evacuated, before and over Black people.

In the interview, she said, “The first bus went, the second bus went, and when the third bus came, people were putting their pets on and making space for their animals, and it was just unfair.” 

“I saw a family with their dogs and their pet cages on the bus, but they were not letting Afrikan students on the bus.”

Border crossing: segregated and sent to the back of the que

While Ukrainians were on their buses, Afrikans were made to walk miles to the border, and hundreds were left stranded waiting to get through. Writing for the Independent, Race correspondent Nadine White details what happened after a long freezing journey taken by Congolese siblings Jeancy, Nahomy, and Israel. The three ambitious students studied management and engineering in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. They shared how they were abused by border guards, separated despite their brother having a disability, and attacked by immigration guards, both male and female.

Jeancy described her assault by a guard, “one male guard beat me so savagely, and then my period came, which only added to the humiliation I was going through. I was enduring the pain of the attacks but couldn’t cry. ‘Are you seriously attacking a woman?'”

She said her sister Nahomy was gun-butted in her gut multiple times by a guard. As a result, she passed out and was hospitalized at the Provincial Hospital St. Padre Pio in Poland from Sunday 27 February to Wednesday 2 March. 

Worst of all, when they managed to cross the border, their brother, who had an existing “physical disability sustained during a racist attack in Ukraine prior to the Russian invasion, [was left] behind.” When he crossed the border, at last, Jeancy was shaken by the “bruises on his face and worsened limp followed by confirmation that he had been beaten outside while separated from them.”

Beyond the border: a White nationalist greeting“go back to your country”

Having endured the hold-up at the border, those who made it through were at risk of coordinated harassment and violence by far-right Polish White nationalist “civil patrols.” The Polish daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, reported that attackers drove cars in the streets, carried baseball bats and bottles, and chanted, “Przemyśl is always Polish!” Sara, a 22-year-old student from Egypt studying in Ukraine, was an eyewitness to an incident in Przemyśl. According to a report by the Guardian, Sara said she was with her friends buying something to eat when something happened.

“These men came and started to harass a group of men from Nigeria. They wouldn’t let an African boy go inside a place to eat some food. Then they came towards us and yelled: ‘Go back to your country,” Sara said. According to the police, three Indians were beaten up by five men, leaving one of them hospitalized.

The reality is that what’s happening to our people in Ukraine can happen to any of us anywhere. Whether in the UK, the rest of Europe, Russia, the United States, China, and especially Afrika – anti-Blackness shows up because it is a global system. A global system of White world supremacy that has no geographical bounds. The treatment at the border reflects the treatment by the media, which reflects the system. Afrikans aren’t prioritized, dignified, or looked at as humans at the border, and they are treated in the same despicable way by the media. Those operating in the White supremacist media and those in the White supremacist government are both part of the same power structure. A structure infected with the psychosis of Whiteness, “the irrational set of ideas that distances Whites people from the blame for the ills of the world [which] are absoolutely essential to maintaining the system of imperialism.” We should know and expect this by now. This is the system and logic of empire. If we don’t gain power and sovereignty and unleash ourselves from this New Age of Empire, we will continue to find ourselves living in a nightmare.

“We’re living in a revolutionary world and in a revolutionary age… I, for one, would like to impress, especially upon those who call themselves leaders, the importance of realizing the direct connection between the struggle of the Afro-American in this country and the struggle of our people all over the world”

Malcolm X, Audubon Ballroom, 1964

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