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Black Students Get Outside Support In Fleeing Ukraine

By Rosaland Tyler
Associate Editor
New Journal and Guide

To help students of color cope with racial discrimination as they try to flee Ukraine, three women recently launched a GoFundMe campaign, the president of Nigeria appropriated $8.5 million to help at least 5,000 Nigerians flee, and the NAACP president sent a letter to the European Union’s Diplomatic Mission.

Records show donations recently climbed to £189,429 on March 19, thanks to Patricia Daley, Tokundo Koiki, and Korrine Sky, the three women who recently launched Black Women for Black Lives. The new organization also launched a GoFundMe effort with a fundraising goal that started at £150,000, according to information listed on their account page.

“It all started with a tweet,” said one of the organizers, Tokundo Koiki.

Another one of the organizers, Korrine Sky said she was studying medicine in Kyiv at the start of the invasion and helped form the organization because she walked for days in the freezing cold with groups to the Romanian border when they could not get a ride. She is now turning her experience into action and helping her remaining classmates, who are still being held in underground bunkers in Ukraine.

“What we do as an organization is particularly important because for us, we prioritize the minority,” Sky said.

“We actually make sure that they are ok and we make sure that they have the food that they need, also that they have the money that they need and that they always have somebody there to talk to them and they have somebody there holding their hand.”

Meanwhile, this same organization recently announced a partnership it launched with @airbnb, which will provide accommodations for up to 14 days to students who are still fleeing Ukraine and trying to settle in other countries.

However, students of color in Ukrainian schools are still telling disturbing stories on social media or in interviews with journalists.

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For example, in a recent interview in The New York Times, Chineye Mbagwu, a 24-year-old doctor from Nigeria who lived in the western Ukrainian town of Ivano-Frankivsk, said she had spent more than two days stranded at the Poland-Ukraine border crossing in the town of Medyka, where guards let Ukrainians cross but blocked foreigners.

“The Ukrainian border guards were not letting us through,” she said in a phone interview, her voice trembling. “They were beating people up with sticks” and tearing off their jackets, she added. “They would slap them, beat them and push them to the end of the queue. It was awful.”

Mbagwu, the Nigerian doctor, managed to reach Warsaw, but said she crossed the border only by struggling and pushing her way through.

“They would say ‘only women and children can pass through,’” she explained. “But they were letting some Ukrainian men through. And whenever a Black lady would try to pass, they said: ‘Our women first,’” Mbagwu added.

Another foreign student studying in Ukraine, Ahmed Habboubi, said he was beaten so badly that he could not walk and was immediately taken to the hospital when he finally entered Poland.

““The Ukrainian army beat me up so much I couldn’t properly walk,” Habboubi, a 22-year-old French-Tunisian medical student, said in a phone interview with The New York Times.“It was absolute chaos. We were treated like animals. There are still thousands of people stranded there.”

He said that Poland had welcomed him warmly.

Dennis Nana Appiah Nkansah, 31, a Ghanaian medical student, said he saw discriminatory treatment at the crossing from Ukraine into the Romanian town of Siret.

So he organized 74 Ghanaian and Nigerian students who hired a bus they used to flee in together. They reached the border, he said, but it took them 24 hours to cross over.

Another troubling story was told by Taha Daraa, a 25-year-old Moroccan student in his fourth year studying dentistry in Dnipro Medical Institute. He said, “I witnessed a lot of racism.”

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Daraa said he and others traveled from Saturday to Monday without sleep. “We were treated so badly. We took buses to the Romanian border. It was very scary then we had to walk across the border while hearing gunshots,” he said via WhatsApp. “All we did was pray. Our parents prayed as well for our safety. It’s the only protection we had,” he added.

International leaders such as Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari approved the sum of $8.5 million to help at least 5,000 Nigerians flee the Russia-Ukraine war and travel to Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia, according to a March 3 report in The Guardian.

Air Peace and Max Air airlines were contracted to provide three aircrafts and run as many shifts as possible to evacuate 940 Nigerians from Romania, 150 from Slovakia and 350 from Poland.

Meanwhile, NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a March 9 letter to the President of the European Union’s Diplomatic Mission, “We write today with an urgent concern regarding reports that Black families, immigrants from the African diaspora, and other people of color who reside in Ukraine have been treated in a discriminatory manner as they flee the escalating war in Ukraine.

Johnson continued in the March 9 letter that is posted on the NAACP’s website, “Press reports and online videos reflect the use of racial hierarchy, violence, and state action taken against refugees of color, as they attempt to flee Ukraine and enter bordering states of the European Union.”

He said, “As you are aware, the provision of humane treatment to refugees is embedded in sovereign law, international treaties, and customary law. . . We understand the difficulty and fluidity of monitoring border agents across sovereign states. We urge swift and proactive action to ensure the fair and humane treatment of all refugees.”

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