March 1, 2022 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

In times of war, we’re all in this together – unless you’re Black

At their border, Ukraine and Poland look away from anti-Black racism.

Image courtesy of Getty.
Image courtesy of Getty.

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War has a way of throwing a magnifying glass on wider society, with extreme circumstances revealing the true nature of people.

Take the situation in Ukraine.  

On the one hand, there are many reports and accounts of ordinary Polish people stepping in and filling the gaps in civic society in order to support and assist many of the estimated half a million or so refugees that have entered Poland since the invasion began.

On the other hand, we have seen numerous videos of Black people being brandished with weapons and brutalized, accompanied by claims of racism, inhumane and violent treatment at the hands of Polish officials as thousands attempt to escape Ukraine. 


Labeling the accounts of racist, violent and allegedly illegal behavior by border officials as false, or as a misrepresentation as some have suggested, is absurd. The reality is the accounts are true and what we are seeing is no different from the anti-Black racism implemented at border crossings everywhere in a global system of white supremacy.


The embassies of Nigeria, South Africa and others have expressed concern about their plight and about reports concerning the treatment of nationals in Ukraine, many of whom are thought to be students. Despite accounts of problems in Poland, most have praised the response from Polish officials, including some Black people.

But neither the Polish nor Ukrainian government have taken responsibility for claims of anti-Black racism at the border. 

There’s been no admission of or pledge to clean it up. No indignation expressed at the possibility that Black people might have been intentionally delayed in leaving a conflict because of their skin color.

Instead, African government representatives have been left to condemn the scenes and assure their nationals safety on Twitter. 

The Polish government has said anyone trying to enter from Ukraine will be assisted, with no documentation necessary regardless of nationality. Ukrainian officials insist the only people barred from leaving are Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60, who are urged to enlist.

Someone, then, isn’t doing their job. 


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Labelling the accounts of racist, violent and allegedly illegal behavior by border officials as false, or as a misrepresentation as some have suggested, is absurd. The reality is the accounts are true and what we are seeing is no different from the anti-Black racism implemented at border crossings everywhere in a global system of white supremacy.

These controversies, when publicly aired, are usually followed by a number of reactions, including the usual apologism, or outright denialism, and rejection of the plain truth that Black people are being repelled and abused at borders with a hailstorm of prejudice. 

These reactions, though, shouldn’t surprise us.

Anti-Black racism is a view shared, implemented and practiced even by other non-white people. There are lots of accounts of anti-Black racism at the US southern border practiced not just by nonwhite border officials (who may self-classify as white) but by NGOs, too. 

Likewise, Black people escaping Libya and elsewhere are often treated as less human than others who, though they are themselves are non-white, nonetheless view Black people as inferior.  

Therefore, racists among white officials on both sides of the Ukraine/Poland border, executing or ignoring their duties with a mutual disdain for Black people, is not hard to imagine. Indeed, it’s the simplest explanation for Black people being left at the back of the queue. There’s no dissection needed for what we are seeing.


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Some argue that Ukraine has a sovereign right to look after Ukrainians first and that that’s all we saw. It’s not about race, they say.  

But there were only a few thousand Black residents in Ukraine prior to the start of the invasion. Furthermore, the UN Convention declares that anyone escaping a war situation has the right of safe passage.  

These scenes are not about nationality, mismanagement or blunder. They are about anti–Blackness rooted in all European countries. 

The chaos of war and the desperation to avoid it has simply revealed the social hierarchy that we all know exists. Anti-Blackness is a consistently practiced universal discipline – even in times of war.


Richard Sudan covers human rights and American foreign affairs for the Editorial Board. Based in London, his reporting has appeared in The Guardian, Independent and others. Find him @richardsudan.

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