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Ukraine invasion: Racist reportage, yet little mention of racism in Ukraine?

Western reporters focus on war-affected people being “people like us” and not some “third-world country”, fail to report on racist treatment of non-white people fleeing war zones by Ukrainian authorities

Deborah Grey 04 Mar 2022

Ukraine war
Image: Wojtek Radawnski / AFP

For the last few days there has been a furore over the manner in which the western news media has reported on the crisis in Ukraine. Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, and though it earlier committed to targeting only military establishments, in just a few days, it started bombing cities and residential neighbourhoods, forcing residents to flee the battle-torn nation.

And it was at this time, that western media’s interest in the region grew, because, in the words of a journalist, “These are European people, with blonde hair and blue eyes!” And to think, it hasn’t even been a hundred years since the Holocaust, a particularly inhuman period of history brought about by one man’s obsession with those two physical traits!

Other reporters referred to Ukrainian refugees as “prosperous, middle-class people”, “civilized” and that “they look like us”. Yet others claimed that this wasn’t “like some third-world country” or people “trying to get away from “areas in North Africa”. Some like CBS News correspondent Charlie D’ Agata even went as far as to say that this wasn’t “like Afghanistan or Iraq” and that Ukraine was “relatively civilised, relatively European”, as if to suggest that it is somehow more acceptable for those countries to be invaded and their citizens were somehow not “civilized” enough!

In her now viral LA Times article titled In Ukraine reporting, Western press reveals grim bias towards ‘people like us’, television critic Lorraine Ali called it a “painful double standard”. She pointed out, among many examples, Daniel Hannan’s piece in the Telegraph where he said, “Ukraine is a European country. Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts, vote in free elections and read uncensored newspapers.” The mention of Netflix and Instagram by the reporter is somehow expected to make the was-affected people more relatable than victims and survivors of America’s military misadventures in the Middle East, or those who survived slavery, genocide and economic oppression at the hand of colonial powers – black and brown people, non-Christian people.

Europe: War and ‘Civilization’

It is noteworthy that the so-called “third-world countries” and many countries in the Islamic world had flourishing civilizations much before Europe, and it was European colonial powers that destroyed their traditional economies, and Americans who bombed them under the guise of giving them democracy!

In fact, Mehdi Hasan minced no words when he called out the racist bias in the reportage, “Europe has been home to some of the worst wars and worst war crimes in human history — I mean, the Holocaust!” He further tore into the biases of western news reporters saying, “When they say – oh civilized cities, and in another clip, well dressed people, this is not the third world – they really mean white people, don’t they?”  

 

 

The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association called for “all news organisations to be mindful of implicit and explicit bias in their coverage of the war in Ukraine.” They gave examples of “racist news coverage that ascribes more importance to some victims of war over others.” It further said, “ AMEJA condemns and categorically rejects orientalist and racist implications that any population or country is ‘ uncivilized’ or bears economic factors that make it worthy of conflict.” The entire statement may be read here:

 

 

Talk show host and stand-up comic Trevor Noah too called out the blatant racism in the reportage, saying, “I was shocked to see how many reporters around the world seem to think it is more of a tragedy when white people have to flee their countries,” and reminded viewers, “Until recently, fighting crazy war was Europe’s thing. That’s all of European history! They even had a 100 years’ war!”

Racism at the borders

Meanwhile, thousands of black and brown people of African, middle-eastern and Indian descent, have been tweeting about discrimination in relief and evacuation processes, particularly at the border. But apart from major international networks like BBC and CNN who have reporters from difference countries, religious backgrounds and races, and media houses from the countries of people facing discrimination, there has been limited reportage on the racism faced by non-white people fleeing Ukraine.

On March 3, 2022, UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, Tendayi Achiume drew attention to how “Black Africans, Indian nationals, Pakistani nationals, people of Middle Eastern descent and others have sent urgent reports documenting life-threatening racist and xenophobic treatment as they attempt to flee the violence in Ukraine.” She shared their plight and examples of blatant racism and xenophobia in a statement released on the official OHCHR site saying, “Some report being denied access to bomb shelters within Ukraine, many report border guards preventing them from crossing the border or pushing them to the back of queues for transportation that would grant them safe passage out of the country and, in some cases, they report being denied access to consulates of their countries of origin in neighboring countries. Many — including babies — are being forced to wait longer in below freezing temperatures with no shelter. In all of these cases, these individuals and groups are being singled out for discriminatory treatment through racial, ethnic, and national profiling that is prohibited under international law, even in the context of armed conflict.”    

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor also issued a statement saying, “The official and media European positions towards the Ukraine crisis, which resulted in a refugee crisis, have exposed a deep-rooted racist European policy that excludes and discriminates against non-European ethnicities”  It further said, “Over the past days, the security authorities in Ukraine and Poland and other European politicians and journalists showed several forms of racism and discrimination based on race, color, and religion against refugees fleeing the war Russia launched on Ukraine on 24 February.” The Euro-Med team viewed testimonies and videos showing that the Polish border guard follow discriminatory policy against non-Europeans, by impeding the crossing of Africans while allowing Ukrainians to cross and providing them with food and first aid.

Euro-Med further highlighted the plight of black and brown refugees fleeing Ukraine saying, “Students and residents of Arab and African nationalities in Ukraine told Euro-Med Monitor that they were forced to sit for long hours at the Polish border without any help, and some of them---especially with black skin---were prevented from crossing without reasons and remained stuck at the borders. At the same time, great facilities were provided to white Ukrainians, who were allowed to cross without visas and travel by train without tickets.” It also brought to link how Indians faced discrimination at borders and railway stations, “Indians residing in Ukraine also said that they faced great difficulties when fleeing the country, as they were not allowed to board the trains, and their crossing was delayed, while the Ukrainians were allowed to cross first.”   

But somehow, these stories are grossly under-reported. Even when they are reported, it is usually by the mediapersons, publications and news channels catering to non-white populations.

Here are a few chilling videos that have gone viral on social media:

 

 

Meanwhile, the Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied charges of racism and said, “In Ukraine, there is no discrimination based on race, skin colour or nationality, including when it comes to crossing the border by foreign citizens. The first come first served approach applies to all nationalities.”

 

 

The full statement may be read here:

 

 

Related:

Plight of Ukraine’s Muslims amidst the Russian Invasion

Trolls hound UP village leader stuck in Ukraine for asking GoI for help

Ukraine invasion: Indian student killed in Kharkiv, right-wing blames the victim!

Kashmir and Crimea – where is the difference?

Ukraine invasion: Racist reportage, yet little mention of racism in Ukraine?

Western reporters focus on war-affected people being “people like us” and not some “third-world country”, fail to report on racist treatment of non-white people fleeing war zones by Ukrainian authorities

Ukraine war
Image: Wojtek Radawnski / AFP

For the last few days there has been a furore over the manner in which the western news media has reported on the crisis in Ukraine. Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, and though it earlier committed to targeting only military establishments, in just a few days, it started bombing cities and residential neighbourhoods, forcing residents to flee the battle-torn nation.

And it was at this time, that western media’s interest in the region grew, because, in the words of a journalist, “These are European people, with blonde hair and blue eyes!” And to think, it hasn’t even been a hundred years since the Holocaust, a particularly inhuman period of history brought about by one man’s obsession with those two physical traits!

Other reporters referred to Ukrainian refugees as “prosperous, middle-class people”, “civilized” and that “they look like us”. Yet others claimed that this wasn’t “like some third-world country” or people “trying to get away from “areas in North Africa”. Some like CBS News correspondent Charlie D’ Agata even went as far as to say that this wasn’t “like Afghanistan or Iraq” and that Ukraine was “relatively civilised, relatively European”, as if to suggest that it is somehow more acceptable for those countries to be invaded and their citizens were somehow not “civilized” enough!

In her now viral LA Times article titled In Ukraine reporting, Western press reveals grim bias towards ‘people like us’, television critic Lorraine Ali called it a “painful double standard”. She pointed out, among many examples, Daniel Hannan’s piece in the Telegraph where he said, “Ukraine is a European country. Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts, vote in free elections and read uncensored newspapers.” The mention of Netflix and Instagram by the reporter is somehow expected to make the was-affected people more relatable than victims and survivors of America’s military misadventures in the Middle East, or those who survived slavery, genocide and economic oppression at the hand of colonial powers – black and brown people, non-Christian people.

Europe: War and ‘Civilization’

It is noteworthy that the so-called “third-world countries” and many countries in the Islamic world had flourishing civilizations much before Europe, and it was European colonial powers that destroyed their traditional economies, and Americans who bombed them under the guise of giving them democracy!

In fact, Mehdi Hasan minced no words when he called out the racist bias in the reportage, “Europe has been home to some of the worst wars and worst war crimes in human history — I mean, the Holocaust!” He further tore into the biases of western news reporters saying, “When they say – oh civilized cities, and in another clip, well dressed people, this is not the third world – they really mean white people, don’t they?”  

 

 

The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association called for “all news organisations to be mindful of implicit and explicit bias in their coverage of the war in Ukraine.” They gave examples of “racist news coverage that ascribes more importance to some victims of war over others.” It further said, “ AMEJA condemns and categorically rejects orientalist and racist implications that any population or country is ‘ uncivilized’ or bears economic factors that make it worthy of conflict.” The entire statement may be read here:

 

 

Talk show host and stand-up comic Trevor Noah too called out the blatant racism in the reportage, saying, “I was shocked to see how many reporters around the world seem to think it is more of a tragedy when white people have to flee their countries,” and reminded viewers, “Until recently, fighting crazy war was Europe’s thing. That’s all of European history! They even had a 100 years’ war!”

Racism at the borders

Meanwhile, thousands of black and brown people of African, middle-eastern and Indian descent, have been tweeting about discrimination in relief and evacuation processes, particularly at the border. But apart from major international networks like BBC and CNN who have reporters from difference countries, religious backgrounds and races, and media houses from the countries of people facing discrimination, there has been limited reportage on the racism faced by non-white people fleeing Ukraine.

On March 3, 2022, UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, Tendayi Achiume drew attention to how “Black Africans, Indian nationals, Pakistani nationals, people of Middle Eastern descent and others have sent urgent reports documenting life-threatening racist and xenophobic treatment as they attempt to flee the violence in Ukraine.” She shared their plight and examples of blatant racism and xenophobia in a statement released on the official OHCHR site saying, “Some report being denied access to bomb shelters within Ukraine, many report border guards preventing them from crossing the border or pushing them to the back of queues for transportation that would grant them safe passage out of the country and, in some cases, they report being denied access to consulates of their countries of origin in neighboring countries. Many — including babies — are being forced to wait longer in below freezing temperatures with no shelter. In all of these cases, these individuals and groups are being singled out for discriminatory treatment through racial, ethnic, and national profiling that is prohibited under international law, even in the context of armed conflict.”    

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor also issued a statement saying, “The official and media European positions towards the Ukraine crisis, which resulted in a refugee crisis, have exposed a deep-rooted racist European policy that excludes and discriminates against non-European ethnicities”  It further said, “Over the past days, the security authorities in Ukraine and Poland and other European politicians and journalists showed several forms of racism and discrimination based on race, color, and religion against refugees fleeing the war Russia launched on Ukraine on 24 February.” The Euro-Med team viewed testimonies and videos showing that the Polish border guard follow discriminatory policy against non-Europeans, by impeding the crossing of Africans while allowing Ukrainians to cross and providing them with food and first aid.

Euro-Med further highlighted the plight of black and brown refugees fleeing Ukraine saying, “Students and residents of Arab and African nationalities in Ukraine told Euro-Med Monitor that they were forced to sit for long hours at the Polish border without any help, and some of them---especially with black skin---were prevented from crossing without reasons and remained stuck at the borders. At the same time, great facilities were provided to white Ukrainians, who were allowed to cross without visas and travel by train without tickets.” It also brought to link how Indians faced discrimination at borders and railway stations, “Indians residing in Ukraine also said that they faced great difficulties when fleeing the country, as they were not allowed to board the trains, and their crossing was delayed, while the Ukrainians were allowed to cross first.”   

But somehow, these stories are grossly under-reported. Even when they are reported, it is usually by the mediapersons, publications and news channels catering to non-white populations.

Here are a few chilling videos that have gone viral on social media:

 

 

Meanwhile, the Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied charges of racism and said, “In Ukraine, there is no discrimination based on race, skin colour or nationality, including when it comes to crossing the border by foreign citizens. The first come first served approach applies to all nationalities.”

 

 

The full statement may be read here:

 

 

Related:

Plight of Ukraine’s Muslims amidst the Russian Invasion

Trolls hound UP village leader stuck in Ukraine for asking GoI for help

Ukraine invasion: Indian student killed in Kharkiv, right-wing blames the victim!

Kashmir and Crimea – where is the difference?

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