A 2010 protest march against racism in the Ukraine. Source www.kyivpost.com
The People of African Descent in Ukraine are passing through difficult times.
The ongoing political unrest has brought about unexpected economic and other crises among most people living in the country. However, the People of African Descent bear the most brunt for obvious reasons. Most Ukrainians know little about the People of African Descent except the negative and unpleasant news about their continent and countries that make the headlines, which are not necessarily their general life pattern nor the countries concerned. This contributes to making the struggles for integration and even the basic equal rights of the People of African Descent an uneasy task.
When the demonstrations started late last year, demanding the then President Victor Yarnukovych not to backtrack on its promise to sign the proposed closer cooperation agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, not many people thought that it could turn into a full-blown, protracted unrest of such a magnitude, affecting the political, cultural and even social fabrics of the society. But even before the situation would reach this level, most People of African Descent here had already started feeling the heat. The already hard-to-find jobs have dwindled and students are no more getting the scanty financial supplements they make from part-time jobs. On their part, the petty traders who survive with their families on daily sales from the markets complain that the markets are dry, virtually no sales. Adding to this is the security factor.
Behind the scenes, at a time that all attention is focused on the ongoing political unrest, some extremists and anti-Blacks see the situation as an opportunity to realize their attacks against the People of African Descent, the visible minorities. Groups of Ukrainian young adults, at times with masks in their faces, have on a number of occasions, ambushed and attacked the People of African Descent in and near the market places where they sell, and other places where they normally pass. (Following is a link to one of such attacks caught on security camera).
This brings a chilling reminder of the premeditated racially-motivated attacks of 2006-2011 that mainly claimed the lives of some People of African Descent. The African Center has thus issued warnings to the People of African Descent especially in Kiev, the capital, and the other regions that are also experiencing unrests, to be extra cautious. The law enforcement organs, presently already stretched to their limits dealing with the ongoing unrests, may not find this a priority. Consequently, for their security, the best advice for the People of African Descent is to limit going out, and to go out with caution, at least until the situation improves.
African Center has been assisting the People of African Descent who are more vulnerable – paying house rents, food commodities, and providing psychological services to encourage them from the daily threats and fears especially among students. The number of people and families asking for assistance to enable them survive until the situation improves keep increasing with the worsening economic situation.
Ukraine, generally, is home to several minorities – former students, migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, and students. Among them are the People of African Descent from Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Congo, Senegal, Guinea Conakry, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, Mali, Namibia Sudan, Angola, Uganda, Brazil, Haiti, Jamaica, Gambia, Tanzania, Togo, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Niger, Rwanda and Tunisia. Many African students prefer to come here to study mainly because costs of study is relatively low, besides, there are several tertiary institutions and specializations.
The African Center continues to defend the rights of People of African Descent. It educates the People of African Descent themselves, as well as Ukrainians, Russians and other non-Africans, on the positive side of Africa.
As the largest pan-African institution in Eastern Europe, the Center also monitors situations of the People of African Descent in Russia, Moldova, Belarus and other Eastern European countries, and coordinates with other institutions with the view to improve the situations. The Center is the platform for empowering especially students of African Descent and reorienting them on pan-African and AU values and agenda. It is also the platform for promoting diversity, respect, intercultural dialog and many more. In essence, it is the library and source of information on the People of Africans descent, and organizes various actions together with its partners. The People of African Descent here has been highly encouraged by the show of support from our New York-based sister organizations United African Congress and Give Them a Hand Foundation, and also the concern of the African Union. Together, we are exploring possibilities to provide urgently needed emergency support.
For now, the African Center is concentrating on the immediate security, social and economic concerns of the People of African Descent in the face of the ongoing unrests. However, in the long term, their general progress including respect for and protection of their rights, security and integration remain our major concern.
The Center would continue to work in partnership with other institutions and diplomatic missions (local and international) as well as various organs of the Ukrainian government, to protect the rights of minorities with reference to the People of African Descent, and implement other laws on minorities as enshrined in the Ukrainian constitution and the EU and UN laws on minorities and migrants.
Together we can improve conditions for the People of African descent in Ukraine who are in need of urgent support.
King Asante-Yeboa is President
African Center, Ukraine
Member, Council of African Elders