I was in class yesterday when the university’s foreign student advisor called and told me to come to his office as soon I could. When I got there, he asked me to close the door behind me. He showed me the newspaper. I couldn’t believe what I saw on the front page. I was shocked. First of all, why would a story about a bar fight be on the front page? You would think that would be reserved for real news.
He asked me if I recognized the men in the background of the photo. I did – I knew all of them; they are my fellow students. He told me that this was awful, but that it was a provocation, and asked me to talk to these students and ask them to stay calm. Because I speak better Ukrainian than most African students - of which there are about 300 at our university - I often act as a coordinator between the administration and the francophone students.
When I told the students in the picture about the article, they rushed out to the buy the newspaper. It was easy to find. It turned out the newspaper used an old photo of them for their montage – it was taken long before this fight allegedly took place. We have no idea how the newspaper got their hands on it.
“I really don’t know why they give visas to African students, since it’s clear they don’t want us here”
Back at the university, we saw other students, Ukrainians, reading the newspaper. I saw some of them laughing at the picture. I told them, “You think this is funny? You think this is normal? In a few months, Ukraine will be hosting the Euro 2012 football championship, which is going to attract lots of foreigners. You can’t act like you’re in a Soviet state anymore.”
I really don’t know why they even give visas to African students, since it’s clear they don’t want us here. I want parents back in Africa to know they should stop sending their children here. At university, we’re excluded. In my class, we African students always sit together – few Ukrainian students will speak to us.
“We live in fear”
Outside university, it’s even worse. I usually go straight home, because it’s dangerous to be out at night. Black people get insulted and assaulted all the time. We live in fear. Not long ago, I was coming back from the supermarket and a group of men just knocked me down and hit me over and over. They took off when I started to scream. There’s no point reporting it to the police – the first thing they always say when an African man walks through the door is, ‘We’re going to deport you.’
Racism is a reality of everyday life in Ukraine. I recently went to make some photocopies with a Ukrainian student. He asked the store owner for a stapler; he gave him use of it, free of charge. I went back by myself the next day; suddenly, I had to pay to use the stapler.
It’s hard for us to defend ourselves, because there’s a real language barrier for most of us. But I hope we will be able to get a meeting with the newspaper editor, so he can explain himself.”