How two strangers came together to help African students in Ukraine amid the Russian invasion

(NEW YORK) — The two women had never met in a real life, but through social media they found a common interest: helping Africans students stranded in Ukraine during the Russian invasion.

Patricia Daley and Tokunbo Koiki, both Black British women, said they were appalled hearing reports of discrimination against minority refugees from Ukraine as they tried to cross into European countries. After seeing a Twitter thread on Africans struggling during the crisis, Daley said she reached out to people on the site to see how she could help and was connected to Tokunbo, who was doing the same.

“As soon as we found out…and the police were heavily discriminating against black and brown individuals. We started up an organization to support these individuals, make it so that they would not be prosecuted,” Daley, an attorney and activist, told ABC News.

Koiki, a social worker, says she knew she had to help because it “aligns with who I am.”

“I decided to use a blanket ‘black in Ukraine’ hashtag that was already being used previously for our campaign because I wanted to highlight and I want to put focus on the situation… I’m used to helping you know, jumping in and doing what I can where I can,” Koiki told ABC News.

So far, Daley and Koiki said they have raised over 100,000 dollars on GoFundMe, created a place for Africans in Ukraine to connect on the texting app Telegram and have helped hundreds of mostly African but also Caribbean students get out of the country safely.

They said they are also working to help another 300 individuals who are still in Ukraine, including Bukala Adu, a Nigerian medical student at Sumy State University.

“We are literally stuck here. Food is running short…So the situation here, day by day gets kind of worse. I don’t know how it’s going to be in a couple of days from now, we really need to leave here right now,” Adu told ABC News.

According to data from Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science, in 2019 there were about 80,000 international students studying in Ukraine from 158 countries. The majority of these students — about 23% — come from India, followed by Morocco, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Nigeria.

Adu says her school continued holding classes right up until the first attack.

“It’s really hard because I don’t think anybody wants to be in a condition where they can’t sleep completely because you have to [look out and see] when there is going to be an explosion,” Adu said. “So it’s actually really scary because when you hear like gunshots or explosions, you have to run to the bunker.”

While Adu has not yet tried to leave Ukraine herself, she says she was not surprised to learn of the reports of discrimination against minorities trying to cross the border into other countries.

“I would say I don’t really experience much of racism, but based on my friends and complaints, they have a darker skin complexion than I do,” Adu said. “They complain that they see racism…I feel really upset because I don’t know why people should be seeing colors. We are all human beings, so we should all be treated like human beings shouldn’t be differentiated.”

“I think it’s very upsetting and disheartening to hear that these students not only have to deal with the fear of fleeing a war, on top of that to deal with discrimination and racial prejudices that we have to deal with every day,” Daley said.

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, thousands are still struggling to find a way out, with many minorities facing additional hardships. Many Africans living in Ukraine have reported being denied entry to neighboring countries like Poland.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has affected Ukrainians and non-citizens in many devastating ways. Africans seeking evacuation are our friends and need to have equal opportunities to return to their home countries safely,” Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba tweeted in response to the reports of discrimination last week.

Kuleba also announced that Ukraine set up an emergency hotline for African, Asian and other students seeking to leave Ukraine.

United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees Filippo Grandi also last week said that he met with Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau who “affirmed Poland’s commitment to continue receiving all those fleeing, without distinction.”

Meanwhile, Daley and Koiki said their initial social media efforts have led to the creation of a nonprofit organization, Black Women for Black Lives, with the goal of assisting people long after the crisis in Ukraine.

“I think that’s what they’re understanding now is that this anti-Blackness is a global thing…whether you’re in the UK, whether you’re in Europe, whether you’re in the United States…And so for me, what I want people to take away is that it can happen to anybody. It can happen to any of us,” Koiki says.

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