DURBAN - The Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) has urged South Africans in Ukraine not to panic but to move closer to the borders as Russia continues to advance its military operations in Ukraine.
This came after reports of racism reportedly perpetrated by Ukrainians against Africans who were blocked from fleeing the war zone as the second week of the Russian military assault on Ukraine continued.
Dirco’s head of diplomacy, Clayson Monyela, said the South African embassy in Ukraine was providing consular support and assistance to stranded South African citizens in the war zone as the Russian army continued to overpower the Eastern European nation.
Monyela said the South African embassy in Ukraine had a database of around 200 South African nationals, including students, to provide with information and updates on how to escape and find refuge in the neighbouring countries.
“We have advised South Africans to move to the borders of countries that are receiving refugees and people fleeing from the armed conflicts.
“This includes Poland, Romania, Hungary and others.”
“South African ambassadors in Ukraine’s neighbouring countries are on the ground facilitating the movement of South African refugees into these countries and providing them with all the required support,” he said.
Monyela added that there appeared to be hope as both Ukraine and Russia began talks aimed at easing tensions and finding a solution that could possibly end the conflict.
On Monday evening, leaders of the AU issued a statement condemning reports of racism against African people in Ukraine and urged “all countries to respect international law and show the same empathy and support to all people fleeing war notwithstanding their racial identity”.
“The chairperson of the AU, Macky Sall, and the chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, are following closely the developments in Ukraine and are particularly disturbed by reports that African citizens on the Ukrainian side of the border are being refused the right to cross the borders to safety.
“All people have the right to cross international borders during conflict and, as such, should enjoy the same rights to cross to safety from the conflict in Ukraine, notwithstanding their nationality or racial identity,” the statement read.
“Reports that Africans are singled out for unacceptable, dissimilar treatment would be shockingly racist and in breach of international law,” the statement added.
Furthermore, the chairpersons also commended the efforts by AU member states and their embassies in neighbouring countries to receive and orientate African citizens and their families trying to cross the border from Ukraine to safety.
A former diplomat and political analyst, Botsang Moiloa, said Africans had often been met with extreme hostility by white people everywhere in the world.
The conflict between the Russian Federation and its European former member of the Soviet Union, Ukraine, was fully activated after Moscow sent its troops to disarm Ukraine and prevent it from joining the US-led Nato.
Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the US and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demand that Ukraine should not join Nato. He said the attack was needed to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine and claimed that Russia did not intend to occupy Ukraine but would move to “demilitarise” it and bring those who committed crimes to justice.