More than 3 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded the country last month. According to the United Nations, nearly 2 million people are estimated to be displaced. While some neighboring countries have welcomed white Ukrainian refugees, many Black residents of Ukraine have reported violence and racism as they seek a safe way out.
Watching videos on social media of Black students being dragged off trains and others being harassed on the street was difficult to watch. The treatment of Black people trying to leave a country they are not even from shows that even during wartime, racism is still alive and well. Three women decided to stand up and do something about it.
Patricia Daley, Tokunbo Koiki, and Korrine Sky formed the organization Black Women for Black Lives. They raise money to “rescue Black lives,” especially from the chaotic process of leaving Ukraine. They have set up accounts on GoFundMe and PayPal to help Africans and Afro-Caribbeans leave the country.
Since the launch, BWBL has raised more than $280,000, to help more than 950 Black people who needed assistance leaving Ukraine. According to Travel Noire, the BWBL also announced a partnership with Airbnb to “ensure the students who are still fleeing Ukraine and settling in other countries are accommodated for up to 14 days.”
When I learned of this organization, I immediately thought about how Black women always seem to come to the rescue. We have this innate ability to collaborate, protect and empower one another. Black women have a long history of carrying heavy burdens – our own and others. Yet, sometimes those burdens are for the greater good. These women have answered the call.
The three co-founders were strangers until a few weeks ago but they shared collective distress from watching people that look like them face discrimination while attempting to flee Ukraine. Daley, Koiki, and Sky connected via Twitter and formed the organization the first weekend after the Russian invasion began.
Korrine Sky, a British medical student in Ukraine, was trying to leave Kyiv. It was her efforts in fundraising for African students on the ground that caught Tokunbo Koiki’s attention. She immediately offered her help to Sky through a direct message on Twitter.
At the same time, Patricia Daley, a UK-based barrister, reached out to Sky to offer her help in fundraising. The three women decided to join forces to provide support and resources for Black people caught in the crisis.
The power of social media has provided a range of tools to help their efforts. There are Clubhouse chatrooms and detailed Twitter threads that share updates about the situation on the ground. There are Telegram chats with resources, cryptocurrency donations to provide funds for those in need online petitions calling for action in helping Black residents in Ukraine. Social media was actually the tool students initially used to tell the world what they were experiencing at the same time as they were trying to leave Ukraine.
This organization is a prime example of what can happen through collective action, just by using social media. Koiki said, “I am not able to move mountains, but if I as one person am taking actions and chipping away at that mountain, and everybody else is also chipping away that mountain, collectively, we can create an avalanche that will bring that mountain down.”
BWBL verifies requests for donations then responds to financial needs for assistance via the Google forms submitted on its website. The funds are dispersed directly to the students and refugees via grants of $50 to $100 at a time.
Janine Anthony, a UK-based sportscaster and volunteer working with Black Foreigners in Ukraine, told CNN Business, “We protect our own if no one’s going to protect us.” The group helps students connect in groups to travel together more safely and coordinate housing. It also provides information on how to open a crypto wallet, in order to receive donations or charge a smartphone without a cord. Anthony says that it’s crucial to provide visa support, legal assistance, and academic relocation services to students and refugees so their lives will not be totally ruined by the war.
I can’t help but be reminded of the Underground Railroad or using the Green Book. Black people have always had to be insightful, quick on their feet, precise communicators, and expertly responsive as a means of survival. This situation, as well as all the efforts, currently happening in Ukraine, feels reminiscent of the history we’ve endured.
There is an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” It speaks to the importance of community and collaboration. It also challenges our current culture of wanting to do everything on our own. What we are witnessing in Ukraine now shows us that we just can’t. These three Black women are leading the charge for community and collaboration to save our own, just as we always have and always will.
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Archuleta is an author, poet, blogger, and host of the FearlessINK podcast. Archuleta's work centers Black women, mental health and wellness, and inspiring people to live their fullest potential.