Macire Aribot and Nassim Ashford pose outside the Kyiv Medical School satellite branch in Bytom, Poland, after a student gathering where they distributed 50 laptops and tablets. (Courtesy of NoirUnited)
Macire Aribot and Nassim Ashford pose outside the Kyiv Medical School satellite branch in Bytom, Poland, after a student gathering where they distributed 50 laptops and tablets. (Courtesy of NoirUnited)

Since the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Ukraine has amassed global support in its fight for freedom and sovereignty. The U.S. has sent nearly $ to Ukraine, with $1.6 billion allocated to humanitarian assistance.

Students in Berlin Germany, after NoirUnited hosted an art therapy and mental health empowerment workshop commemorating the first anniversary of the War in Ukraine (Courtesy of NoirUnited)
Students in Berlin, Germany, after NoirUnited hosted an art therapy and mental health empowerment workshop commemorating the first anniversary of the war in Ukraine (Courtesy of NoirUnited)

When news broke of African students by Ukrainian border patrol and security forces, it was distressing to discover that the racial justice and human rights that African Americans fought for in the U.S. and abroad were being blatantly violated in the country desperately in need of our help.

African students have had a long history in Ukraine, as early as the 1920s. With higher education extremely limited in Africa due to a legacy of colonialism, African students often look outwards to Europe for opportunities to further their studies. 

In 1957, the Soviet Union formally began recruiting African students, starting in Ghana after they gained their independence. At the start of the war in 2022, approximately 16,000 students were studying in the country.

Reckoning with the largest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II, the European Union enacted a to welcome the arrival of Ukrainians displaced by the war. African students, however, faced a different reality.

Because of the color of their skin, students, women, and children were pulled off of trains and buses and of Poland. Forced to walk long hours to the border, several students reported waiting days in segregated lines in excruciating cold weather.

Students used social media apps such as X (formally known as Twitter), Telegram, and WhatsApp to raise awareness and share information on which border crossings were safe, and other resources to assist them as they sought safety. 

Supporting African Students Affected by War in Ukraine, NoirUnited 

As young, Black, emerging global leaders and graduate students at the Yale School of Public Health and Columbia School of International and Public Affairs, we identified with the shared struggle against racism and were compelled to action.

In 2020, we co-founded, a global development and humanitarian organization dedicated to community-based interventions to support Africa and the diaspora.

Leveraging our academic and professional experiences, we launched. Through collective advocacy and fundraising, we supported thousands of displaced students with transportation, food and housing assistance, mental health, and legal support. With the help of Ukrainian translators, we coordinated the evacuation of over 40 students from Kherson, Ukraine. 

We traveled across Europe to Poland, Hungary, Germany, and France to confirm the horrific stories of racism and emphasize our commitment to humanitarian equity and transnational solidarity.

We learned that African students from Ukraine faced a double trauma: the psychological impact of war and racism. Despite being legal residents displaced from the same conflict as Ukrainians, Africans were categorized as 鈥榯hird country nationals,鈥 limiting their access to aid and temporary protection in Europe. This barrier affected the most important concern to students: their education.

Unable to work or continue university in the EU, students also reported being forced to pay thousands of dollars to receive their Ukrainian transcripts or risk being expelled from the institution. NoirUnited received first-hand accounts of these reports and intervened to recover several transcripts on behalf of students.

This crisis shed light on how humanitarian challenges impacting Black communities often go unaddressed, exacerbating their already difficult experiences. 鈥嬧 As the war in Ukraine persists, options for displaced African students to continue their education remain severely limited. Many were training to become vital professionals like doctors, engineers and business leaders that the continent desperately needs. 

With Ukraine aiming to, we must ensure that the plight of African students does not go unaddressed.

As Americans, we have an opportunity to leverage our resources, knowledge, and community to build cross-cultural connections and make an impact on the global stage. By providing educational opportunities through scholarships and career development, we can secure pathways for them to continue their ambitions and mitigate disruption to Africa’s future talent pipeline.

With over 70% of Africa鈥檚 population, its future lies in the hands of the youth.

Nassim Ashford is a recent graduate from Yale School of Public Health and cofounder of NoirUnited International. Macire Aribot is a recent graduate from Columbia University鈥檚 School of International Affairs and co-founder of NoirUnited International.

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