The United Nations reports more than 800,000 people have fled Ukraine since Russia attacked last week, but many foreign nationals trying to escape have described racist discrimination and abuse, saying they were turned away from buses and at the border, while Ukrainians were welcomed with open arms. We speak with one of the African students who documented their experiences on Twitter with the hashtag #AfricansInUkraine. Nigerian student Alexander Somto Orah says the discriminatory treatment he and other African students faced started at the train station in Kyiv and continued at the border with Poland. “We started protesting and telling them they have to let us go, that this is rubbish. They take in like a hundred Ukrainians and then take in like two Africans. It doesn’t make sense, because there are more Africans there than Ukrainians at the border,” Orah recalls. “So we started pushing, and the police cocked their guns and pointed at us guns and told us that they’re going to shoot us.” Orah eventually made his way to Warsaw and is now helping other students to cross.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
The United Nations reports more than 800,000 people have fled Ukraine since Russia attacked last week, but many foreign nationals trying to escape have described racist discrimination and abuse, saying they were turned away from buses and at the border, while Ukrainians were welcomed with open arms. India’s government has dispatched ministers to Ukraine’s border with Poland after people from India seeking to cross from Ukraine to Poland reported they were told to go to Romania instead. Citizens of several African countries report they were also pushed back from Poland because they are Black. Some 16,000 African students are thought to have been studying in Ukraine.
On Tuesday, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted Russia’s invasion had, quote, “affected Ukrainians and non-citizens in many devastating ways,” and said, quote, “Africans seeking evacuation are our friends and need to have equal opportunities to return to their home countries safely.”
Several African governments also condemned the racism Africans in Ukraine faced while trying to escape, with the African Union calling the treatment a “breach of international law.”
On Tuesday, Democracy Now! reached 25-year-old Nigerian student Somto Orah after he had reached Warsaw, Poland. He described the discriminatory treatment he and other African students faced as they tried to flee, starting at the train station in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.
ALEXANDER SOMTO ORAH: The first discrimination started in Kyiv, which is the capital, at the train station. I was trying to enter, and they were telling us it’s only women and children. And they were only picking white women and children. So, when the first train left, the second one came, and they said the same thing. We now asked them, “What do you mean by women and children? Because we are not seeing you taking any Black women here. If you mean white women and children, at least you are being honest. But telling us women and children and not taking African women along is totally rubbish.” So we started shouting and started telling them, “Nobody is going to leave here if dishonest to their words.” So, they asked us, “Where are the African women?” We started showing them the African women and children, and they were able to board.
So, another train that is going to Poland came in. I jumped in with other two Africans. I was in the cabin, and they called the police on us. The police came and told us to get out of the train. They dragged us out and told us that this train going to Poland is basically for Ukrainians only, so we have to wait for another train that was in the night. That train came, and they told us the train is not going to Lviv, which is the city that has border with Poland. So we copied the train number and sent it to — my friend copied. I copied it, and my friend also copied it and sent it to his girlfriend, who is a Ukrainian. The girlfriend told him that “This train is going to Lviv. Don’t listen to them. Jump in.” The train was about to leave. We jumped in. They were already trying to close the door. We told them, “You either open the door, or you push us on the way.” So they have no other option than to open the door. So, we went in, and we were the only Africans in the train.
When we got to Lviv, the whole train going — the first train came in, and they told us it’s only Ukrainians, women and children only, and they usually pick more white people than Black people. We started shouting again. So, when the second train came, we have to push the whole white — African women and children to the front so that they are — so they were able to take them. And we had no other option than to look for a taxi that will take us to the border. And we got to a barricade that is 30 minutes away to the border. And the barricade told us that — the soldiers there, with the police there, separated us. They said, “Foreigners go to this side. The Ukrainians go to the other side.” So, I was going. I asked some people there, “How long have you been here?” One said three days. The other one said two days. I was like, “No, I cannot endure this. I have to find a way.”
So, in the morning, which is the next day, we started protesting and telling them they have to let us go, that this is rubbish. They take in like hundred Ukrainians and then take in like two Africans. It doesn’t make sense, because there are more Africans there than Ukrainians at the border. So, we pushed — we started pushing, and the police cocked their guns and pointed at us gun and told us that they’re going to shoot us. We told them that “We are students. We just want to go home. And if one person gets shot here, that will be never taken lightly. We are thousands here. I don’t think all of them can kill us.” The police came in and drove with speed, parked in our front, brought out gun like the soldiers and told us that they’re going to shoot. We told them, “We don’t care. We have to cross.” So, we started pushing over, pushing over. Before we know, all of us shouting “Yay!” We broke the barricade and started running across towards the border. So, some of them started beating some people with batons.
Meanwhile, when we were trekking to the border, Ukrainians were helping us. They were giving us foods and water on the road, which is very nice. The only people that discriminated against us were the officials. That’s the law enforcement officers. Then, after the whole day in the night, they started allowing the men because there are only a few women left. So it was pretty easy for us to cross over. And on the Poland side, there was no discrimination.
So, we want to continue our education. And nobody wants to go back without completing their education. So, we also want the world to know that it is actually not good to be asking the world for help while committing war crime and discriminating against Africans. It never made sense. I was expecting people at war to be more compassionate. I wasn’t expecting them to do such things.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Nigerian student Somto Orah speaking with Democracy Now! after he fled to Poland from Ukraine and reached Warsaw. Special thanks to Democracy Now! producer Messiah Rhodes, who reached him for this report. And for the radio listeners, you can go to democracynow.org and see the video, the B-roll that we laid over what Somto was saying. It is his own B-roll. It’s his own video of what took place on his journey.
Coming up, we talk about Russia’s invasion and President Biden’s State of the Union address with Filipino vice-presidential candidate Walden Bello and Branko Marcetic of Jacobin. Stay with us.