Who is trying to fuel racism and xenophobia in Kharkiv?
On the evening of 18 March a torch procession was held in the student area on Alekseyevka by an organization calling itself “Patriots of Ukraine”. Young people in military-style clothes demanded that the hostels for Ukrainian students be better than those for foreigners. The law enforcement officers raise no objections to the march however human rights defenders are sceptical about its peaceful nature.
The torch procession was organized in accordance with all the rules, with notification in the district executive committee and police station. The participants get into a column, light torches and march to the student area. As they themselves put it – to show the foreign students whos boss: They chant: “One race! One nation! One homeland! Ukraine!”, “Kharkiv belongs to us!”,” the best hostels for Ukrainians” The organizers claim that there is “racial discrimination” in Kharkiv with the heads of institutes concerned first about foreign students and not Ukrainian State-funded students.
The leaders of African students have told those new to Kharkiv who dont know the language well to be particularly carefully after such actions.
Ludovic Muanda: “We advise them to try not to go out by themselves, but in twos or threes or fours. And try to get things done before 6 because in winter its dark by them and they could be attacked.”
A year ago Ludovic saw a student from his country killed by skinheads in St Petersburg. He has lived in Kharkiv for more than 10 years and says that he already advised people up to now to come to study in Ukraine.
Andrei Beletsky leader of “Patriots of Ukraine” claims that everything is done for foreign students and that they move people out so as to let them have a room intended for 3-4 people with only one other, or even if they want by themselves. He asserts that this is at the expense of Ukrainian students.
The march is around the perimeter of the student “city”, with most of the foreign students living in the centre. The aim is to enlist supporters from among Ukrainian students. They claim to have around 100 members in the organization.
Such public actions by the self-styled nationalists only began about half a year ago. This was the third such torch procession. As mentioned, the police have no complaints against the ultra-right “patriots”.
Valery Lyuty, head of the police for public safety: “Police officers control the situation. They speak directly to the leaders and warn them not to disrupt the peace”.
Human rights defender Yevhen Zakharov calls the organization fascist and has doubts about its peaceful nature. In Russia fascists are already killing foreigners. He believes that in Kharkiv the ultra-right extremists are at the first stage of a terror campaign against foreigners, this involving psychological pressure.
Yevhen Zakharov: Foreign students are intimidated and frightened to complain to the police. And without such complaints, no investigation can be carried out. At the same time, they complain of violence and threats of violence. The police went around the hostels before such processions and advised students not to go out. They even put notices to that effect in the entrances. And not for nothing: the students say that after the processions, when its already quite dark, the demonstrators split up in groups around the student area and look for foreign students to beat up. And if theyve found them, theyve been badly beaten. Theyve also been other cases involving beatings, abuse, threats etc.
I have written testimony from students about this however it was given on condition that names would not be revealed, because theyre afraid. They say that theyre experiencing real psychological terror and are thinking of returning home.
Many talked about two people having been killed. I have looked into this very thoroughly with the help of the regional department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It turns out that no foreign students have in fact been killed. Yet the fact that people independently all tell the same story, about how somebody was stabbed several times and died in hospital suggests that the rumour has been spread deliberately in order to frighten foreign students.
At the same time when the administration of the National Pharmaceutical Academy approached the police in connection with the beating up of a student who ended up in hospital, the offender was arrested and is now awaiting trial. As for the three torch processions, I find it extremely strange that there should be “patriots” prepared to come out on weekend evenings to have a demonstration. I think theyve simply been paid to do it. Somebody really wants to create the impression that Kharkiv residents are racists and xenophobic. The police need to get information from foreign students and take incidents of racism and xenophobia more seriously. The number of such cases has risen significantly. Incidentally the embassies of at least two countries – the USA and France – officially warn their nationals of danger from racist violence in Ukraine. Who wants this reputation?