Mar 1, 2022 - World

Leaders decry reported mistreatment of Africans fleeing Ukraine

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari gives a speech at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. Photo: Julien De Rosa/Pool//AFP via Getty Images

African nations and U.S. civil rights leaders are condemning the reported mistreatment of Africans by Ukrainian authorities as they try to flee the nation amid Russia's invasion.

Driving the news: Nigeria's government strongly criticized reports and video images from its citizens — and those from other African nations — that they were being prevented from leaving, and facing harsh treatment in neighboring Poland.

Details: Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said in a tweet Sunday his government had received "unfortunate reports" of Ukrainian police and security personnel refusing to allow Nigerians to board buses and trains to Poland.

  • "There are also separate reports of Polish officials simply refusing Nigerian citizens’ entry into Poland from Ukraine."
  • He said roughly 4,000 citizens from Nigerian and other African nations are stranded in Ukraine.

The NAACP, one of the oldest civil rights groups in the U.S., said Monday the reported mistreatment of Black people in Ukraine was "atrocious and reprehensible."

  • "Right now in Ukraine, Black families, immigrants from the African diaspora and other people of color — mothers, children, and students — are not only facing challenges to evacuate a deadly warzone but are being pushed from trains and beaten by police officers."

What they're saying: "Africans are being denied entry through the Ukrainian borders. The minister of foreign affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, has taken this up with the Ukrainian ambassador," Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Nigeria’s special adviser to the president on diaspora affairs, told reporters.

The Polish border force told the BBC everyone fleeing conflict in Ukraine was being welcomed into Poland regardless of nationality.

  • Televised reports have shown authorities prioritizing women and children on the limited trains crossing the border.

Background: A few thousand Black Ukrainians are believed to live in the country's major cities, though precise population numbers aren't available, Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, a historian and University of Pennsylvania doctoral candidate who studies Black Ukrainians, told Axios.

  • Some are biracial second- or third-generation Ukrainians with African fathers and white, Slavic mothers.
  • Others are first-generation arrivals from African nations drawn by easy access to education.
  • Buhari said Nigerians and other Africans have a long history of studying n Ukraine, particularly medicine.

Don't forget: Zhan Beleniuk, an Olympic gold medalist serving as Ukraine's first Black member of parliament, urged fellow countrymen last week to resist the Russian invasion.

  • Beleniuk has spoken openly about the racism he's faced in Ukraine after bringing home the Greco-Roman middleweight gold last year in the Tokyo games.
  • But experts say he and other Black Ukrainians are expressing their loyalty to the country amid fears they could become special targets for Russian occupiers.

Go deeper: Get the latest with the Ukraine-Russia dashboard

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