Photo: Protesters in the District gathered in earnest at the Russian embassy to protest the country’s invasion of Ukraine. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer) 

Black Americans have enjoyed an enduring bond with Africa and their brothers and sisters living on the Continent, with many U.S.-based civil rights agencies, clergy members and African-American organizations taking a keen interest in the welfare of citizens in the 55-nation motherland.

Now protesters in the District have gathered in earnest at the Russian embassy to protest the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

The protesters have remained outside the Russian embassy since Russian President Vladimir Putin greenlighted a “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24. Almost immediately, explosions occurred across Ukraine in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odessa.

Protesters at the embassy carried Ukrainian and American flags while around the world, individuals expressed concern about the invasion. And in areas with large Black and minority populations, concern mounted for the tens of thousands of international students studying in Ukraine.

Many of those students come from Africa. 

“Many of them do not have paperwork to enter Europe,” wrote Terrell J. Starr, host of the Black Diplomats Podcast that focuses on the intersection of race and foreign policy. 

Starr also counts as a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, focusing on Ukraine, Georgia, Russia and nuclear non-proliferation issues.

Starr notes the especially perilous position facing African students and Black Ukrainians in an op-ed.

“There is no census data on their numbers but figures range from thousands to tens of thousands,” Starr wrote. “It is impossible to know without data but it is not uncommon to see Black folks walking around Kyiv speaking fluent Russian or Ukrainian and walking with their white family members.” 

Starr added that his friend, a Black Ukrainian, shared that while she’s proud to be Black, she feels the trauma of the Kremlin’s aggression as much as any white Ukrainian.

“Like America, Russia is a settler-colonial state and we as Black folks need to understand how leaders of such states operate because we aren’t that far behind when it comes to being on the lower end of the totem pole of racial oppression,” Starr said.  

“Yes, in America, Ukrainians are white. But over here, many of my Ukrainian friends tell me Putin and Russians who think like him view them as white trash. So many Ukrainians very much see themselves through the lens of race when it comes to Putin’s revisionism of their shared history,” he said. 

While multiple reports suggest Ukraine has never championed diversity or an acceptance of Black people, Russia has been especially harsh toward individuals of darker hues.

Home to 144 million people, just 70,000 Russian residents identify as Black.

The SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, a Moscow-based advocacy organization, revealed that Africans and those who descend from the Continent face widespread hostility and racism that routinely goes unpunished.

“We would note one racist action on the territory of Moscow State University of Civil Engineering,” SOVA Center officials wrote in January. “In a video circulated online, young people can be seen harassing Black students, throwing snowballs at them, ‘awarding’ them bananas as ‘gifts’ and insulting them generally.”

In 2021, the SOVA Center reported at least 63 victims of ideologically motivated violence; three of them died, and the others were injured or beaten; five people received serious death threats. 

The total number of hate-motivated attacks had increased compared to the previous year when one victim died and 52 were injured or beaten. 

“And what should be kept in mind is that our data, especially for the year that just ended, is incomplete and will inevitably increase,” SOVA Center officials noted. “The figures we provide do not reflect the true scale of violence and are incomplete to a significant extent.”  

“The mass media provide the lion’s share of information about such crimes but in recent years they have reported practically nothing about hate crimes or have described them in such a way that isolating a motive becomes difficult,” officials said. 

Victims rarely report attacks to human rights organizations, except in the hope of receiving legal, medical, educational, or financial assistance, officials concluded. They also rarely inform police out of fear of reprisals.

With Russia’s Ukraine invasion ongoing, some will train their eyes on the plight of Black people in the region.

“Anytime I am asked why Black people should care about anything that is considered non-Black, I refer them to Malcolm X’s call to condemn the U.S. at the United Nations for its abuses against Black Americans,” Starr wrote.

“Even a highly pro-Black activist like Malcolm knew the power of solidarity. I suggest we follow his lead as it pertains to Ukraine because colonial conquest of any nation should alarm us all – be it by Russia or even our native United States,” Starr wrote. 

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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8 Comments

  1. There is a subversive narrative being circulated with a healthy dose of despicable race baiting. About people only caring about Ukraine because they are mostly white people. It’s purpose is to undermine support of Ukraine in America. And it is almost certainly sponsored by Russian agents and pushed on social media by Russian sympathizers and people who like Vladimir Putin.

    1. Lies, Ukrainians have show racism towards blacks and Nigerians going to school and living and the Ukraine calling players that represent their basketball team pieces of (SHI tea). Push Mothers and children of Nigerian dissent the back lines with force using guns. Your comment reeks of ignorance.

    2. Although some info could be Russian propaganda, a lot of examples of racism by Ukrainians exist.

      Two, Ukraine is a hub for White supremacist organizations throughout the world. Even as I post this, White supremacist orgs around the world flocking to Ukraine to help them.
      I’ve yet to see Ukraine’s leader to tell them “stay at home. We don’t want you here.”

  2. What we are getting is the idiots mantra of the enemy (Putin) of my enemy (the racist West) is my friend.

  3. Any half-decent person with a shred of anti-racism humanity within their moral compass will not fail, like me, to be concerned about the terrible plight of not only those millions of mainly white Ukrainian refugees, but also the thousands of under-reported Black and Asian refugees who have similarly been fleeing war-ravaged Ukraine. I note with concern the credible reports of Black and Asian refugees (mainly overseas students) fleeing in horror from Putin’s murderous onslaught who have been refused board on some of the trains that have been conveying Ukrainians to safety in Poland. Other commentators on here have also been justified in drawing attention to the disreputable under-reporting in our mainstream media over recent years of the hundreds of Black and Asian students residing in BOTH Russia and Ukraine who have been viciously assaulted and even murdered by Far Right racists indigenous to these countries. Reggie Yates produced a really chilling documentary on this very subject a few years ago for the BBC. I am ashamed that on the two pro-Ukrainian London demonstrations that I have participated in as Black Londoner, I have been joined by so few fellow Black Britons in condemning this international Russian imperialist outrage. But equally concerning to me has been the coldness and snubbing that has greeted me on both of these demonstrations from some of the Blue and Yellow flag-waving Ukrainians with whom I was showing empathy and political solidarity. I would naturally love to argue naively that one’s ethnic origins should NEVER in an ideal World be a factor as we rightly express our outrage at Putin’s Nazi-Stalinist bid to obliterate Ukraine from the European map. But, deep down, some disturbing thought still lingers in my mind that for some morally warped and ideologically blinkered people, the ethnicity of most of Putin’s victims is much more of a pressing concern than the plight of eastern Europe’s non-Slavic ethnic minorities that his and Zelensky’s regime have also been oppressing all along whilst most of us chose to look elsewhere and shamefully pretend that this racism was only a trivial issue.

  4. The Russians have Brittany Griner (WNBA) & American. Why? Because Putin is a short white guy – with mental issues. I am a retired white lady – BORN & RAISED Columbus, OH. Kamala was my pick in the DEM primaries. Could we please fly some F-35s and F-22s up Putin’s arse – to get his attention. Putin’s Palace – which he denies exists – is located on the Black Sea – just across from Crimea, Mariupol – Ukraine. Warn staff! Bomb palace! Bang-A-Gong! WW3 [nuclear version] is NOT winnable – but, it is survivable – IF America strikes first – After “false-flag” – by NATO. My husband – Hans – of 40+ years – is a BIG white guy – who lifts weights @ YMCA. There is a difference. VLAD don’t like me! Hans loves me! I “cougared” Hans – when I graduated UWGB – 1982. They didn’t call it [that] then. I got him with “stealth” – and, took him down – on our first date. Hans’ family did NOT approve – I was divorced, “older” – by 5 years – with a little girl. She is an attorney – in DC – today.

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