Racism and assaults: African students' daily struggle in Ukraine

5 min

 Ukraine was supposed to be their Eldorado, but everyday life is instead a long struggle: intimidation, insults and assaults are a daily occurence for the black African students doing their university studies in Europe.



Ukraine was supposed to be their Eldorado, but everyday life for Congolese is a huge struggle: intimidation, insults and assaults are a daily occurence for the black African students doing their university studies in Europe.


On the night of July 2, a fight broke out between Congolese students (from Congo-Brazzaville and Congo-Kinshasa) and Ukrainians in Ternopil, a town in the west of the country. This incident was captured on camera and published on Facebook by students from Congo-Brazzaville.


According to an eyewitness, the Congolese were celebrating their graduation at a nightclub in the city centre. Around 4 a.m., someone in the group was insulted and set upon by a group of Ukranians. But the arrival of the ambulance fanned the flames because the paramedics refused to give the Congolese student, who was bleeding from the lip, any medical attention. The video starts at this point.



Ukraine had many African students when it was part of the USSR. Bilateral agreements between African countries and Ukrainian universities were signed just before Ukraine gained its independence to create new ways of promoting Communist ideology.


According to the International Organisation for Migration in Ukraine, 60,500 foreign students are currently in the country and about 10,000 are black Africans. Between 2007 and 2012, the IOM registered 204 racist attacks, mainly against Asians and Africans. Sixteen people in total were killed.


The Institution for Development in East Europe, an NGO based in Kiev, says that there are even incidents in which the African migrants are swindled: manyare targeted by fake agencies who offer language training or accommodation. According to the NGO, racist attacks are common in Ukraine. In January 2012, a newspaper in Ternopil published a photo montage comparing “blacks and Arabs” to monkeys.


If you are an African student in Ukraine, do not hesitate to post an account of your daily life below this article, or send your account to

"It is practically impossible to find work here when you are a black African"


Tristan Terno (a pseudonym) is a Congolese student in Ternopil. He was a witness to the event in the video.


These images clearly show what happens when there is a row between black Africans and Ukrainians: the police confront the Congolese but don’t even look at the Ukrainians who continue to be provocative behind their backs. He even takes off his T-shirt at one point to show his muscles and continues insulting us. Only the Congolese students are reprimanded, even though both parties are involved in the fight.


Here in the Ukraine, I feel like someone crossing a river who has to wade though to the other side. In our group of thirty Congolese students in Ternopli, the majority can’t really make it. University costs an arm and a leg, about $18,000 for mechanical engineering and $3,200 for medicine. It is practically impossible to get a work permit. The luckiest ones are the African girls who know how to braid hair; they can make some money.


I’m not asking for much, even working as a cleaner would be fine.  I’ve being living here for five years. I have to finish my 5th year to get my degree. But I don’t even think that I will have the money to get through this year. I regret ever having come to this country.


Another video taken inside the night club shows the beginning of the fight which spilled outside. The "Berkut", special police forces, intervene to arrest the students. Video El Ninho Gomez.

“I hear that in your country, there are no houses, people live in the forest and sleep in trees, is that true?”

Mamady Keita is a student and Guinean Mondoblogger who lives in Dnipropetrovsk.


When I saw the video, I wasn’t very surprised. Racist acts are frequent here. I’ve been here two years and although I have never experienced assault, I have been (the) victim of intimidation and racism. We’re often insulted in Ukrainian or Russian and the word that comes up time and again is ‘monkey’.


Sometimes, they even insult us in our own language! On Sunday [4th August], I was in a youth hostel in Kharkov and the receptionist greeted us with ‘kouna matata’ [which means ‘no worries’ in Swahili, an East African language]. This can have a negative meaning, she was saying that we were wasters – we didn’t do anything or know anything. She added that she didn’t want any blacks in the hostel and told us we had to leave.


I came to Kharkov for two weeks to work on a building site. But when I went to get paid, my boss told me that he owed me nothing [a foreign student is not allowed to work in Ukraine without obtaining a work permit.] He told us “go and complain if you want to, but no police officer will take you seriously”. Nobody told me that before I left home.


I was shocked to see that even the youngest children are prejudiced. A few months after I arrived, I was in the park and a child asked me, as if it were the most natural thing in the world “I hear that in your country, there are no houses, people live in the forest and sleep in trees, is that true?”


Things are starting to change though. More and more Ukrainian girls are going out with black Africans; companies are starting to employ friends once they get their degree. Fewer nightclubs refuse entry to black people. I have lived in Dnipropetrovsk for two years and the situation is a little bit better overall.