Taken with permission from DiversiPro Inc LinkedIn page
As the war in Ukraine rages on – and the world watches – hundreds of lives have been lost and millions of people have fled their country to an uncertain future. Scores of ordinary people in Poland have been doing extraordinary work to help desperate people escaping the war. We wanted to hear first-hand from individuals doing work on the ground in Poland, so we interviewed Dr. Margaret Amaka Ohia-Nowak and Anna Kostecka.
Amaka is an Inclusive Language, Anti-Racism & Belonging in the Workplace Consultant. She co-created a coalition of Poland-based organizations composed of Black, Brown, members of the LGBTQ2S community, and their white allies. She is developing a complex support system for Black and Brown people who are fleeing the war in Ukraine to Poland.
Anna is a global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) strategist based in Warsaw and an Associate of DiversiPro. She has been involved in supporting the work of NGOs and grassroots initiatives helping refugees, and works in solidarity with the Black community in Poland in responding to current refugee crises.
What you need to know
● Since Russia launched a full-scale war on Ukraine on February 24th, more than 1.5 million refugees have fled from Ukraine to Poland (in two weeks!). This number goes up by 50-80k every day.
● In the current crisis, almost all the help provided to the refugees arriving in Poland from Ukraine is provided by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), citizens, private businesses, and local governments. This is not sustainable.
● Poland’s government rose to power in 2015 on an anti-refugee platform. We have an ongoing humanitarian crisis on the border with Bialorus with people still stranded in the forests. The strategy adopted by the Polish government has been to push people who have crossed the border back to Belarus, keep NGOs and journalists out of the area, and build a wall at the border. There is no well-functioning system of support for refugees.
● Among people fleeing Ukraine to Poland, approximately 10% of them do not have Ukrainian citizenship – among them are Africans, people of African descent, Black and Brown people, who were living in Ukraine.
In the dramatic evacuation from the escalating military conflict, Black and Brown people have faced additional traumatizing experiences of discrimination and racism.
There are well-documented cases of Black and Brown people who were refused transportation to evacuate, separated from other evacuees at the border, and made to wait in long lines without shelter, in rain or freezing temperatures and snow.
When they do finally cross the border to Poland, tired, cold, and hungry, they are not entitled to many of the special forms of support that have been made available to Ukrainians: Free train transport to larger cities, free public transport in the cities, free access to healthcare. They often have a limited right to stay in Poland, so rather than rest and recoup after their evacuation, they must work quickly to ensure they do not become undocumented.
Here in Warsaw, so many regular people are involved in helping those fleeing Ukraine. When I was taking a taxi to get a baby carrier (offered by another volunteer) for a family that stayed in my apartment, I talked to a taxi driver who was also hosting a family in his house. It is heartwarming to see so many people who rushed to help refugees and I am very grateful to see people in Poland now doing it at scale.
It breaks my heart to see that this generosity and in general access to aid and support is not extended to all equally. I saw it firsthand when I was briefly hosting a Nigerian family with a newborn or connecting African students to accommodation.
Racism plays out in emergency response and that is why 96 civil society organizations called for equal access to aid and countering any instances of personal or institutional discrimination, xenophobia or racism amidst this crisis. (Source in Polish, copy of the statement in English).
What you can do to help
While donations often feel impersonal, they are actually one of the most effective ways to help. They enable NGOs and people on the ground to react fast to the ever-changing situations and needs. Consider donating to:
● Support Black and Brown people fleeing war in Ukraine created by a coalition of six organizations, based in Poland and created by people of African descent, Black and Brown and queer people, and their allies.
Other options to consider:
● Real ways you can help Ukraine as a foreigner – crowdsourced information platform with the most comprehensive list: official funds, requests, materials (doc updated live, hourly). It includes local tips for helping from Canada
● Fundraiser created by the Poland-based Foundation for Somalia. They are raising funds to help and support all people fleeing the war, regardless of their national and ethnic origin.
● Fundraiser created by HomoFaber to enable support team working almost 24 hours a day to continue to provide direct and indirect assistance to all people fleeing Ukraine.
9 thoughts on “The View from Poland: Experiences of Racialized Refugees from Ukraine”
Thanks for sharing this Cynthia and offering some ways to help. The war is an ugly reminder of how ordinary people suffer from the politics of governments.
So true, Brad. And, like Covid, how the decisions made by leaders in one country can affect people in others far away.
Thank you for letting readers know how they can help, Cynthia. There are no bounds to the misery and heartbreak of war.
Thanks, Lavinia. It’s good to see ordinary people stepping up to help strangers of all kinds.
Thank you for posting this, Cynthia. The enomority of the humanitarian crisis the world is facing because of one evil meglomanic is hard to even comprehend.
Ukraine is not that far away, nor Poland including African students. These contagions can be (must be) suffocated. The world’s peoples and places are so interconnected – surely we can do this. Good to see humanitarian and human rights groups listed above.
An important post, Cynthia
Thank you for this important information, Cynthia.
I’d heard on some of our news programmes that even in such a desperate situation, there was still racism on display, sickening.