How to help people of color in Ukraine

BIPOC are running into increased difficulty trying to get to safety. Here’s what you can do.

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In the early hours of Feb. 24, Russia launched its promised military attack on Ukraine.

In spite of the global outcry, the 1 million people who have been forced to flee their cities due to the bombing and military invasions, the numerous bomb-wrecked neighborhoods, the civilians who have lost their lives and the global sanctions being placed on Russia, the war is still ongoing.

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3.3%

The percentage of the Ukrainian population made up of people of color, including both natives of the country and migrants who settled there.

Brittanica

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These people are scrambling to find safety in neighboring countries or are looking for ways to make it back to their home countries — and facing racial discrimination while attempting to flee.

Worst of all, there are many BIPOC who are still stuck in Ukraine, unable to leave.

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Ore Lawal, a 23-year-old Nigerian, has a relative stuck in Sumy, a Ukrainian town currently buckling under the weight of Russian bombing and shelling. It is reported that more than 500 international students are stuck in this town, with very little hope of getting out soon.

Lawal’s sister, who goes to Sumy State University, was supposed to return to Nigeria in the weeks before Russia’s invasion began. “The week before the first bombing, my parents had been asking my sisters to come home because of the news we had been watching and everything we were hearing about a possible war,” Lawal tells Mic.

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Like everybody else, [my sister and her school] underestimated [Putin].

Ore Lawal

Lawal says the school continued to preach calm and insist that “nobody is panicking, so we shouldn’t either.”

Lawal also says her parents were urging her sister to leave, “but my sister said the school didn’t allow them to,” she says. “If they had left, it would have meant them missing classes, and they could have been expelled for it.”

The negotiations to let students return back home took too long. “The morning they were supposed to leave,” Lawal tells Mic, “was the first day they blew up the airports.”

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Right now, Lawal’s sister is still stuck. Lawal says her family is going without sleep trying to figure out a way to get her evacuated.

“I’m in at least seven Telegram groups, five WhatsApp groups, and some on Twitter,” Lawal tells Mic, sharing how she communicates with families of other BIPOC stranded in Ukraine. “The ones who have kids in Sumy and Kyiv are freaking out every day. Panicking. Praying. The group is filled with prayers and messages and affirmations from parents to parents.”

They’re literally hanging by a thread. It’s too much for some of them to handle.

Ore Lawal, on parents she speaks with who are trying to evacuate their children from Ukraine

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So how can you help BIPOC in Ukraine?

Call attention to the struggle.

One easy way anyone can help is to use their voice. Lawal suggests people post on Twitter and Instagram about what’s going on, or reach out to media accounts about stories they hear. “News channels can help us amplify our messages,” Lawal says, and “the government can actually make the effort to do their jobs too.”

The situation in Sumy is one activists on the ground hope will get more attention than it already has. “We need to create more awareness for people in Sumy to get them out as soon as possible,” Amarachi Mojekwu, a medical doctor who opted to stay in Ukraine and help evacuate non-Ukranians, tells Mic.

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Donate to people on the ground.

Lawal says she’s heard that people are going without food and trudging through the cold in order to find safety. With Black people and other people of color being de-prioritized at the Ukrainian border, you can directly help by sharing these resources to your network, which include donation links for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks fleeing the war.

Alternatively, there are other donation initiatives, like this Paypal Pool fundraising for Black international students fleeing Ukraine, or this one with even more donation links and resources for BIPOC students still making their way to safety. You can also choose to donate to established refugee charities such as the UNCHR, and Project Hope.

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“Find individuals who are on ground who have been working tirelessly to get things done and support them financially and with all other tools they might need,” Mojekwu says. “It’s very expensive shuttling people to safety and also taking care of some of their needs whether it’s food, accommodations, or some money for miscellaneous purposes, as most people have run out of money or left all their resources behind.”

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Share vetted resources.

Amplify the voices that are providing vital information for non-Ukrainians fleeing the war. There are posts dedicated to non-Ukrainians making their way to the border, or specifically for Nigerians with a Nigerian passport. And there are accounts dedicated to providing real-time updates and facilitating resources for BIPOC.

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Support legal aid.

Many refugees, especially BIPOC, run the risk of being harassed, being held under unlawful grounds, or encountering immigration issues. You can do something by circulating resources on Legal Aid.

In addition, you can offer direct legal assistance. “We desperately need immigration lawyers on the ground in Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Austria to volunteer and support our own,” Mojekwu says.

“Most of our people do not know their rights fleeing from war. … Immigration lawyers need to support and educate them.”

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Extend empathy.

If you are from the press or are simply looking for information on the situation, be empathetic and refrain from inundating people who are fleeing with information and interview requests. Numerous BIPOC refugees on Telegram chats have raised concerns about being bombarded by the press. If they are not yet ready to talk or are not in the right frame of mind, don’t bombard them with follow-ups. Remember that they are literally running for their lives.

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Stay informed.

Keep an eye out for fake news or disinformation and carefully follow the facts. There have been attempts to downplay the racism that took place at the Ukrainian border, but it is important to find, watch, and read first-hand accounts on this issue and confirm the situation yourself.

This way, you can better apply yourself to helping the cause. You can also join Telegram chats to directly see how you can help.

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Petition your government.

Petition your government to do something! While countries like India have shown remarkable proactiveness in helping their nationals make it home safely, countries like Nigeria only began to act after mounting pressure.

Writing to your foreign ministers, reaching out to them on social media, and calling their attention to the trouble BIPOC refugees are facing will put pressure on people in power to act and could help people make it home safely.

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