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Indian students among victims of racism in war-torn Ukraine: Mandela Foundation

March 06, 2022 17:43 IST

The current Ukraine crisis triggered after the Russian military operation has given rise to "disturbing" reports of racism against students of several nations, including India, who have been attempting to flee the war-torn country, the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF) here said on Saturday.

IMAGE: Evacuees fleeing Ukraine-Russia conflict walk along a road in the town of Irpin in the Kyiv region, Ukraine, March 5, 2022. Photograph: Mikhail Palinchak/Reuters

According to reports in the international media in the past few days, Indian, South African, Nigerian and students of other nationalities have been debarred from using transport to reach neighbouring Poland as thousands of Ukrainians fled the country.

Some complained of being beaten up as they tried to join the fleeing crowds, purely because of their skin colour.


"The conflict in Ukraine has foregrounded another global fault line: racism. There have been disturbing reports of Black people and people of colour, being denied seats in buses evacuating refugees, and turned away from the Polish border,� the NMF said.

"This illustrates once more a common global phenomenon in which the sufferings of white people in conflict situations habitually receive more attention and care,� it said, adding that white lives are seen to matter far more than the lives of others.

"Racism remains as insidious and ubiquitous as it has ever been," it said in a statement.

The Johannesburg-based Non-profit organisation said that achieving solidarity in the global community required recognition of shared humanity and defending equally all victims of war and prejudice.

"One of the ironies of the public discourses swirling around the Ukraine invasion has been the outrage expressed by the United States, a country which, for some time, has perfected the arts of invasion, occupation, and a contemptuous dismissal of international bodies," it said.

"Over months and years now we've listened to Putin's representations of Russian and European history to justify Ukraine staying within that sphere. Whatever we may think of this logic, it informed the United States acting against Cuba in the 1960s and Grenada in the 1980s, who were within its perceived sphere of influence.

'To accept this logic in respect of the behaviour of the United States but deny its pertinence to the current conflict over Ukraine is to put a hand over one eye and claim to see everything,� the statement said.

The foundation offered its assistance to the South African government to show leadership at this critical moment and press for a ceasefire so that rigorous negotiations on the future can be mapped out.

After initially strongly condemning the Russian action, South Africa later adopted a softer line, calling for negotiations. South Africa was also one of the countries to abstain in a UN vote calling on Russia to immediately withdraw from Ukraine.

Separately, internationally-renowned South African Indian-origin filmmaker Anant Singh has said his company Videovision Entertainment will stop licensing its content to Russia.

"The unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the resulting humanitarian crisis is reprehensible. We join the millions of people around the world and peace-loving nations in asking for Russia's immediate withdrawal," Singh said.

"Freedom and democracy were delayed in South Africa as many turned a blind eye to apartheid. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who acted against the apartheid regime and spoke out. We cannot allow peaceful nations and their people to be conquered," Singh added.

To evacuate Indian citizens from Ukraine, the Centre has launched 'Operation Ganga'. However, the evacuation from the eastern part of Ukraine, which has been witnessing heavy fighting, has been a cause of concern.

India has been evacuating its citizens through special flights from Ukraine's western neighbours such as Romania, Hungary and Poland as the Ukrainian airspace has been shut since February 24 due to the Russian military offensive.

According to the Ministry of External Affairs, nearly 17,000 Indian nationals have left Ukraine's borders since advisories were issued over a fortnight ago.

Russia on Wednesday said it was working "intensely" to create a "humanitarian corridor" for safe passage to Russian territory of Indian nationals stuck in Kharkiv, Sumy and other conflict zones in Ukraine following a request from India.

An estimated 20,000 Indian nationals, mainly medical students, reside in Ukraine.

Fakir Hassen in Johannesburg
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