Russians give bananas to Black foreign students and call them ‘monkeys’ in video

A video that has been circulating in Russia and abroad since late January showing racism against foreign students at a Moscow university has sparked outrage. Foreign students have raised concerns about discrimination for years in Russia, where tens of thousands of Africans have come to study. Our Observer, a Congolese student at the university where the video was filmed, told us about the everyday racism he is victim to.

In a video shared online, a Russian person hands out bananas to Black students at Moscow State University of Civil Engineering.
In a video shared online, a Russian person hands out bananas to Black students at Moscow State University of Civil Engineering. © Observers

The video, which has been circulating on Reddit and on Russian social media channels, is a montage of several clips showing some unidentified Russian people interacting with people of African descent. They give the students bananas and throw snow at them, all while laughing and calling them names like “monkey” (heard 19 seconds into the video).

The video was shot on January 20 at the Moscow State University of Civil Engineering, where there are more than 200 foreign students from 35 countries.

‘Some of the insults they use are so rude that I can’t repeat them’

Christ Dinga is a 27-year-old student from Congo. He moved to Russia in 2015 to pursue his studies and has since witnessed various forms of racism at this university. He told the FRANCE 24 Observers team about his experience as a Black person in Russia. 

In Russia, I personally have been a victim of racism on several occasions. When people see me, the first thing they do is laugh: ‘Look, a black man. What is he doing here?’ There is mockery every day. There are groups on Vkontakte [Editor’s note: a Russia social media network] and they’re full of hate. I only log on to get information about my studies. Not everyone in Russia is a racist, but racists exist. 

But I haven’t witnessed racism to the extent of this video. In the video, there are two Russians – one filming and the other handing out bananas and throwing snowballs at the African students, using the slur ‘monkey’. Some of the insults they use are so rude that I can’t repeat them. The first person in the video is an Angolan student who defends himself with aggression, using rude insults too. The second student is a Nigerian and accepted the banana without realising it is for humiliation. The third is Angolan. And the fourth student is a Guinean. With him, a fight broke out, but the Russians cut out the part of the video with the fight.

There are many foreign students at our university who come from Africa, Asia, the Middle East. Foreign students often stay isolated in their own groups, and there are even campuses for foreigners – Russian students are not mixed with foreign students [in dormitories]. I can say that many African students are victims of racism and discrimination. I speak of Africans because I am a witness and I know what is happening in the African community here. I can’t speak for other communities. 

On October 25, 2020, the lifeless body of a Burundian student was found not far from campus, in the same place where this video was shot. There is an association within the university that is supposed to fight against discrimination but on the ground, it does nothing at all. Its aim is to protect the image of the university.

Jolivet Makoroka, a 31-year-old Burundian student at Moscow State University of Civil Engineering, disappeared on October 22, 2020 and was found dead several days later with a fractured skull. There was evidence that his body was dragged into the bushes. Students held a ceremony in his memory, but Dinga says that the university has yet to comment on this situation.

For over a decade, foreign students have complained of discrimination in Russian universities, including insults, beatings and harassment. Black people living in Russia report daily discrimination such as being turned away at restaurants, refused service by taxi drivers and being denied by landlords. 

In 2013, a student from Swaziland was victim of a homophobic attack and humiliated in a video. When the student complained to his university, he was expelled.

Educational partnerships bring African students to Russia

There are various partnerships between Russia and African countries, providing scholarships for African students to study in Russian universities. Up to 27,000 students from Africa were studying in Russia in 2021.

Dinga himself is a recipient of a scholarship from the Congolese state allowing him to study in Moscow. However, he says neither Russia nor Congo has provided him with enough support during his studies.

The Congolese authorities in Brazzaville keep sending and abandoning young people in Russia. I have to tutor Russian students alongside my studies [to earn money]. Despite the difficulties of working in Russia and the lockdowns during the pandemic, we are left to our own devices. The embassy has said nothing and students are afraid to come forward in Russia because you can easily end up in prison with how demonstrations are repressed here.