Ukraine grapples with alarming rise in hate crimes
More than 60 people were targeted last year
Nigerian medical student George Itoro Ebong says he was waiting for a bus in central Kyiv last year when three young men ran up, shouted racially charged insults at him and smashed a bottle over his head, according to AP.
In the year since, the 28-year-old says, he feels safest in his dorm or in the lecture hall. When he does go to a cafe or a bar, it`s only during the day and with three or four friends.
"On the street it is not safe, on the metro, even on the bus it is not safe," he says.
The numbers of such hate crimes are rising at an alarming rate in this ex-Soviet bloc country, which is trying to hone its reputation as a bastion of democracy as it pursues a spot in the European Union and NATO.
Foreigners in Ukraine have been stunned by the sudden and ferocious spike in violence.
London-based Amnesty International warned in a report released Thursday of an "alarming rise" in the attacks in recent years in this nation of 46 million.
The group said more than 60 people were targeted last year, and that six of them died. More than 30 people were attacked since the beginning of this year, and at least four were killed.
Amnesty did not give data for earlier years, but the United Nations` International Organization for Migration said there were 12 such attacks in 2006, three of them fatal, and only five attacks in 2005.
Much of the violence has been blamed on ultra-rightist groups like the Ukrainian National Labor Party.
The party leader, Evhen Herasymenko, told The Associated Press that attacking dark-skinned foreigners is like "the immune system — the reaction of a healthy body to the infection that got into it."
Any non-Slavic-looking person can be a target. A black American diplomat, not assigned to Ukraine, was attacked in Kyiv in 2005 by a group of men in an apparent hate crime. The diplomat had minor injuries.
The U.S State Department on its Web site now warns prospective travelers to Ukraine of "racially motivated violence."
Foreign students are perhaps the most vulnerable. Since 2002, the number of foreign students has doubled to nearly 40,000. Most come from China, Russia, Syria, India, Iran and Malaysia, the Education Ministry says.
Despite the dangers, they keep coming, lured by the solid Soviet-style education and relatively cheap tuition fees.
Rights advocates are puzzled by the rise in hate crimes but they say government inaction is partly to blame.
"These things happen when governments let them happen," Amnesty researcher Heather McGill said.
The report, which McGill co-authored, criticizes the government for failing to investigate hate crimes thoroughly and punish perpetrators.
The group said Ukrainian law enforcers fail to classify such attacks as racially motivated and instead often write them off as hooliganism, which is easier to prove in court and usually carries a lighter sentence.
Rights groups also say the government aggravates the problem by denying that racism is growing.
Ukrainian hate groups are believed to be inspired by their counterparts in Russia, which has been struggling with a much larger problem with racially motivated attacks, according to Amnesty.
Russian skinheads help the local groups, sharing tips and video clips on how to attack and torture victims and pointers on how to safely flee a crime scene, the rights group says.
Police say some 500 skinheads operate in Kyiv alone. Another 1,000 members of hate groups are estimated to be active elsewhere in the country, according to the IOM.
Nigerian Henry Asimote, 40, is recovering from multiple knife wounds to the stomach he received in March when two men assaulted him on a trolley bus in Kyiv.
The sports clothes seller says he may have to return with his Ukrainian wife and 2-year-old daughter to Nigeria.
"We came to this country, these were good people, but it is becoming too dangerous for me and my family," he said.