March 21, 2022

“True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure—the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.” Robert McKee. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting.

I am the Ukrainian heading an international team that founded the Global Inclusion Online Forum (GIOF), a major digital event platform for diversity, equity and inclusion around the world, now uniting more than 10,000 members. The majority of our team is also Ukrainians based inside the country, with colleagues located in Lithuania, Georgia and the United States.

In these difficult circumstances, the Global Inclusion Online Forum team continues its mission of raising DEI awareness all around the globe.

Wars are an extreme kind of pressure, an unending stress that people live in for days, weeks, months—and even years. The world is now witnessing the next stage of Russia’s outrageous war against Ukraine. Scenes that we might only imagine seeing at the cinema are unfolding before our very eyes, and they are revealing our innermost qualities: both the best and the worst.

Since February 24, hundreds of civilians have died here as a result of Russia’s full-scale invasion, while hundreds of thousands have taken up weapons and are fighting to defend their country. There are thousands of reports about the courage, bravery and patriotism of Ukrainians, and these are our best qualities, revealed by this war, surprising both our enemies and our allies.

But there is another side to this story too, which has been repeated by foreign media: as the military action and humanitarian crisis grow, we are seeing an increasing number of wrong actions and inappropriate statements. Some of the most disturbing, to me, have involved racism.

Hundreds of thousands of the Ukrainian people are trying to flee the country. Next to them, many of non-Ukrainians, including students, women and children, are also queuing at the borders.

Since the war started we have seen reports that people of color were repeatedly denied exit by Ukrainian border authorities in favor of Ukrainians or other Europeans. With the percentage of people of color population is much below 1%, Ukraine wasn't a place where racism manifested itself on a significant scale before the war. Very few thought that was any issue. Unfortunately, this crisis has exposed it like never before.

And it is not about ordinary Ukrainians. Some political leaders from Ukraine as well as foreign reporters based in Kyiv, experiencing the same stress as everyone else, have allowed themselves racist or discriminatory comments.

As a well-known BBC journalist Mehdi Hasan revealed in one of his reports two days ago, American and British commentators described Ukraine, the country in the geographical center of the European continent as “relatively European,” which Ukrainians take as a deep offense. I’m not even talking about Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan, countries that have been classified much below Ukraine by the same commentators.

All these facts clearly demonstrate that nobody is perfect in this world. Both Western and Eastern nations including their most famous representatives have a long way to go to eliminate racism from their language—and, most importantly, from their actions.

In this regard, it is great to see the continued efforts of companies like AirBNB, whose decision to provide 100,000 free homes to Ukrainian refugees was preceded by a similar move last year for 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan. We are glad to see the relentless efforts of UNHCR, UNICEF, ICR and other international organizations to help refugees, regardless of their origins.

With all this, signs of light prevail over those of darkness. Most of the world has united around Ukraine in the face of the existential threat to peace, democracy and human rights, the key foundations of diversity, equity and inclusion all around the world. As the GIOF team continues its mission, we look forward to the world equally supporting everyone who is in need these days, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or age.