5 Reasons Why We Should Care About Russia’s Invasion Of Ukraine
From the direct impact on Black people in Ukraine and around the world to the larger effects of injustice and oppression, Black people have plenty of reasons to pay attention to Ukraine.
February 26, 2022 at 4:29 am
After months of tensions in Europe and international diplomacy, this week saw the start of a major international crisis. Troops from Russia have invaded neighboring Ukraine. The two countries, which were once part of the larger Soviet Union during the Cold War, have had tensions for years. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was a spy in the notorious KGB during the Soviet era, has led Russia for 22 years. During this time, he has consistently tried to restore power that was lost when the Soviet Union broke apart in the early 1990s. In 2014, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula with important access to the sea. Russia has also been supporting and sending troops to back militant separatists in eastern Ukraine. Now, Russia appears to be outright taking control of parts of Ukraine and possibly the entire country. While this is all very dramatic and important for the people of Ukraine, it may not be immediately obvious how this impacts the United States and other countries, or how Black people, in particular, are affected by this crisis. Here are five reasons why we should care about the situation.
1. Black people in Ukraine are supporting their fellow Ukrainians and being put in danger.
Though not well known, there are Black Ukrainians. The exact Black population of the country is unknown, but Axios reports that likely several thousand Black people are living in the country, mostly in its major cities. Many of these Black Ukrainians are the families of students and workers recruited to come to the country from various African nations during the Cold War. Currently, there are a number of prominent Black Ukrainians, including several soccer stars and other athletes or entertainers. There are also thousands of students from various African countries who began scrambling to go home after the fighting started; a number of them have been sharing their stories with OkayAfrica and other sites. By Saturday evening, the hashtag #AfricansInUkraine was trending on social media, highlighting stories and videos of Black people in Ukraine being denied access to transportation and left in freezing weather as they tried to evacuate the country.
Despite lingering anti-Black racism, there is at least one Black person in Ukraine’s parliament: Zhan Beleniuk, a former silver medal Olympic wrestler for Ukraine who was elected in 2019 as part of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's Servant of the People political party. Although Beleniuk has discussed facing racism in the country, he fully stands behind Ukraine and his own Ukrainian identity; Axios reports that he has posted on social media indicating that he is ready to fight against the Soviet invasion. Several Black Americans also reside in Ukraine. Professional basketball player Toure' Murry recently told Fox News about his efforts to eventually flee the country, while fellow player Maurice ‘Mo’ Creek remains stuck in Ukraine as fighting persists. Another Black American resident currently in Ukraine is journalist Terrell Jermaine Starr, an expert on Russia and Ukraine who has written for multiple news outlets. Starr recently announced that he would be staying in Ukraine during the invasion to cover the news and to help friends and other Ukrainians in danger or in need. Starr has been regularly reporting on the conflict since the invasion began.
FYI: *If* Russia attacks, I will stay in Kyiv. I will report on what's happening. But, if needed, I will also help civilians in need. I will not leave Ukraine or my friends.
Don't ask me to leave because I won't.
Pray for me and send well-wishes.
— Terrell Jermaine Starr (@terrelljstarr) February 21, 2022
2. Russia’s example may destabilize other regions of the world.
Though the invasion of Ukraine is an immediate crisis for Europe, its impact is being felt around the world. It is feared that Russian aggression may inspire other countries to invade neighbors or seize territory, setting off a round of warfare. For example, there are growing fears that China, whose President Xi Jinping is a close ally of Putin, may follow the Russian example and attempt to invade Taiwan, the autonomous territory that the Chinese government claims as part of China.
But it is perhaps in sub-Saharan Africa that the greatest dangers lie. Nearly every African nation exists within borders drawn by colonial powers that lumped together multiple people and ethnic groups while also dividing certain groups across multiple nations. These divisions have fueled terrorism, civil wars and occasionally international wars in Africa, and the risk of violently changing borders could spread death and instability across the continent. Recognizing this risk, Kenyan Ambassador to the United Nations Martin Kimani recently made these points in a powerful speech condemning Russia’s invasion. He noted that African states have accepted imperfect borders “not because our borders satisfied us, but because we wanted something greater, forged in peace.” Rejecting the Russian invasion, Kimani argued that violent attempts to change borders risk “plung[ing] us back into new forms of domination and oppression.”
If you're gonna listen to any speech about #Ukraine 🇺🇦, let it be this one.
The Kenya ambassador to the UNSC perfectly explains how people across Africa understand Ukraine, and what the Kremlin's acts of aggression mean in our post-colonial world. pic.twitter.com/0gTuAni0DC
— Thomas van Linge (@ThomasVLinge) February 22, 2022
3. Russia has been a destructive force in Africa and Black American communities.
Speaking of Africa, Russia not only risks destabilizing the continent through example but could also bring about unrest in several ways. Although Africa once had a reputation for warfare and violence, many countries have ended conflicts and created peaceful ways to settle political and social differences, such as electoral democracy. But in recent years, democracy has declined in every region of the world, and the rise of dictators across the globe brings new threats of war and violence. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine may cause significant disruptions in the ability of African nations to import important products from these countries, including grain and other food products, as well as oil and natural gas. Food and fuel shortages could lead to civil unrest.
More directly, Russia is the largest supplier of weapons to sub-Saharan Africa. The same group of Russian government-affiliated mercenaries that have been active in eastern Ukraine in recent years has also operated in several African countries, including the Central African Republic, Libya, Mozambique and Sudan. These fighters have been accused of human rights abuses, and Russian military influence on the continent appears to be growing. In January, a military coup overthrew the elected government of the West African nation of Burkina Faso; the military officers who took power started flying Russian flags, seemingly welcoming Russian military help and even mercenaries.
Meanwhile, Russian efforts to interfere with U.S. elections have targeted Black Americans and used African countries to do so. The Washington Post reported that Russia has spent the last several years co-opting topics and hashtags like #blacklivesmatter to sow divisive disinformation in the U.S., specifically targeting Black American communities as a way of destabilizing American society and influencing the 2016 and 2020 U.S. elections. To hide their activities, Russia has reportedly outsourced this disinformation campaign to professional internet trolls in African countries, such as Ghana and Nigeria. The use of African citizens to spread misinformation to Black Americans shows the racist leanings of Russian foreign policy.
4. Several high-ranking Black American officials have been trying to solve the Ukraine crisis.
The cabinet chosen by President Joe Biden is one of the most diverse in U.S. history. This includes his foreign policy team, which has been hard at work addressing the crisis in Ukraine. Vice President Kamala Harris recently traveled to Germany, where she met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy before the invasion, offering American support to the Ukrainian leader and touting sanctions against Russia if it invaded. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield represented the U.S. government’s last-ditch efforts to prevent Russia from launching a war with Ukraine. During the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, Thomas-Greenfield condemned Putin for “deliver[ing] a message of war” in a fiery speech that the Russian president gave before the invasion. Since then, Thomas-Greenfield has been representing the Biden administration's response to the American press and corralling US allies to present a united front against Russia.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was among the leading figures warning of a possible Russian invasion before it happened. Since the invasion was launched, Austin has been working with his counterparts in many other countries to coordinate the response by NATO to Russia’s moves, supporting Ukraine while avoiding a direct conflict between NATO and Russia. Former President Barack Obama condemned the Russian invasion as a “violation of international law and common human decency” and supported the Biden administration’s sanctions against Russia.
Last night, Russia launched a brazen attack on the people of Ukraine, in violation of international law and basic principles of human decency. Here’s my statement on what it means, and what should happen next. pic.twitter.com/Wa0C8XGwvK
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) February 24, 2022
5. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
These famous words, written by Martin Luther King Jr., reflect not just a general principle of fighting oppression but also a specific recognition that the fights against oppression at home and abroad are connected. King was not only a champion of civil rights in the United States, but he also opposed imperialism and international aggression. King condemned imperialism, opposed American intervention in Vietnam and even criticized the Berlin Wall as one of few people allowed to give remarks on both sides of the Soviet-created barrier.
Malcolm X similarly opposed imperialism and saw the anti-imperial struggle as tied to Black freedom in America. And a generation before them, legendary scholar and activist W.E.B. Du Bois consistently tied together the freedom struggles of Black Americans and people abroad. He co-founded the NAACP and was one of the early leaders of the Pan-African movement, preaching solidarity with colonized people in Africa and around the world.
Now, Ukraine finds itself amid an invasion reminiscent of the colonial wars of previous generations. Knowing all too well the long-lasting impacts of such injustices, Black people in the U.S. and around the world have ample reason to care about what is happening in Ukraine and what it means in Europe, the U.S., Africa and across the globe.