An accusation going round the women’s movement that must be rejected

10/03/2022 Comments Off on An accusation going round the women’s movement that must be rejected

“You’re only supporting them because they’re white and look like you.”

I heard a version of this accusation about supporting Ukraine several days ago and decided I had to make a personal reply to it. First, “they” (Ukrainians) are not all white. According to the 2001 All-Ukrainian population census data, the representatives of more than 130 nationalities and ethnic groups live in Ukraine, including people of African and Asian descent, and people from many other ethnic minorities, from Roma to Jewish to Muslim, as well as from a wide range of Russian and Western Asian ethnic minority backgrounds.

Second, according to 2020 government data, Ukraine was also home to over 76,000 foreign students when this disaster hit. About a quarter of them are from Africa, with the largest numbers from Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt, and over 20,000 from India. Others are from ethnic minorities living in other European countries. Foreign students have gone to study in Ukraine, especially medical students, because the cost of living is lower and the quality of education is high. They make an important contribution to the Ukrainian economy.

There have been several reports of students experiencing racist treatment as they have tried to cross the country to reach a border. Social media footage has apparently shown some Ukrainian officials preventing them from leaving. Like the population hosting them, many are stranded and running out of food and water. One group were found by a journalist in a basement with no lights. One group, who asked for help getting to the border, were told “Poland is that way, start walking…” But when interviewed, they have also spoken positively of their experiences as students before the Russian invasion and are as upset to have to leave as everyone else.

Some African governments, e.g. Nigeria and Ghana, have been working hard to evacuate their citizens from the country, with some organising flights back home for those who make it across the border. The Ukrainian government has launched an emergency hotline for all students wishing to leave.

The EU has offered one year’s protected stay in an EU country to any refugee from an EU country, under a new policy agreed in record time on 3 March 2022. All non-EU residents, they say, will be accommodated and fed in the EU before being repatriated to their home countries. In an exceedingly miserly gesture, the British government has offered entry to only 50 Ukrainian nationals with visas, compared to tiny Moldova, which has already taken in at least 100,000 people.

But to get back to the main reason I wrote this, it is because I take the above accusation very personally. Ukrainians don’t just look like me, I am them. I am Eastern European by background. My four grandparents were from Moldova, Romania, Hungary and Russia. As children, they fled with their parents from the pogroms and from anti-semitic and anti-socialist policies in all four of those countries. So I take this invasion very personally too.

Lastly, if you look at all the invasions and wars littering the history of Russia – not just for the past 12 days but for centuries – let alone the mass internal assassinations in Russia (by Stalin, for example, who slaughtered millions of Russians). And if you understand what would have happened if the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, had been set on fire or blown up by Russians last week. And when you ask why even the USA, the world’s most militarily aggressive country, and military alliances like NATO, are too nervous to engage, you may get a slightly different perspective on how important this assault on Ukraine actually is. And don’t forget the threat to all the neighbouring countries to Ukraine, who are next on Putin’s death-dealing list if this assault succeeds.

SOURCES: Ukranian census data 2001 ; BBC News, by Soraya Ali, 5 March 2022 + AFP Photo; EU Observer, by Nikolaj Nielsen, 3 March 2022

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