What the Western Press Coverage about the Ukraine Crisis Tells Us about the Perception of the Middle East and Africa

From stopping African and Asian Students from leaving Ukraine, to the press coverage of the Crisis, the Western media has reminded us that we still live in a racist society.

Samantha Seidu
22nd March 2022
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Libreshot, PxHere

Seventeen days into Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine has seen damage to built structures in various cities and the enlistment of many Ukrainian citizens to join the army and millions of refugees trying to avoid shelling from Russian forces. On top of this there have been thousands of casualties, many of which are children.

In our efforts to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine and the refugees of war, a serious problem arose which must immediately be addressed: the issue of racism. It is disturbing to see that even in the midst of war, there is still time to discriminate and segregate on the basis of skin colour. As millions of refugees try to leave Ukraine, reports of African and Asian students being subject to racism at the border began to arise. When trying to flee the conflict, they were often not allowed to board trains because their white counterparts were prioritised. The treatment of non-white people at the Polish Border became another grim reminder of how non-white people are viewed by white European society. 

The racism does not stop there though; the Western press coverage of the conflict has been hugely problematic and racist to say the least.

Western press coverage of the conflict has been hugely racist to say the least.

This is what some journalists had to say from well known news platforms:

“These are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from Ukraine, they’re Christian, they’re white, they’re very similar”- Kelly Cobiella, NBC

“This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilised, relatively European- I have to choose those words carefully, too- city, one where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s not going to happen”- Charlie, D’Agata, CBS

“They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking. Ukraine is a European country. Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts, vote in free elections and read uncensored newspapers. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote nations”- Daniel Hannan, The Telegraph

“It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed”- David Sakvarelidze, Deputy Chief Prosecutor of Ukraine

What all these statements have in common is that they make it clear that war does not belong in Europe, only in ‘impoverished and remote nations’, i.e. the Middle East and Africa. It implies that white, Christian, Europeans with blonde hair and blue eyes do not deserve to be refugees and that it is ‘emotional’ when they are, whereas when it applies to refugees fleeing the Middle East under similar circumstances it is not. What this says is that Middle Eastern and African countries are underdeveloped, uncivilised and somewhat backwards or primitive so when war happens, it doesn’t matter all that much. 

Such statements make it clear that war is only seen as significant, an event, when in Europe.

Naturally, the conflict in Ukraine will cause a lot of worry, because of its proximity to countries such as the UK or the US, however, to draw comparisons and attempt to mitigate the scale of conflict in the Middle East and Africa is deeply offensive and upsetting. The press has no right to humanise white suffering whilst simultaneously dehumanising that of non-white people. War generally is a traumatic experience for everyone involved, regardless of its location, so our aim should be to offer as much support to Ukrainian people without undermining the suffering of other victims of war. It is possible to offer this support without being racist and discriminative.

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