Ukraine and the Traps of Proximity to European and Russian Slavic Whiteness



Tsymbalyuk Funambulist 4
 Darya Tsymbalyuk and Ahmed Abozaid at a vigil in St Andrews, Scotland on February 28, 2022, a few days after the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ahmed’s sign reads “No to War No to Occupation.” / Photo by Fayaz Kacho.

While the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, Darya Tsymbalyuk attempts to reckon with the complex layering of racialization Ukrainians are subjected to. In being presented unequivocally as “white” when they receive support from western nations, we ought to question the peremptory dimension of this characterization and reflect instead on the conditionality of this temporary access to European whiteness. 

On March 4, 2022, a few days after the beginning of the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Syrian writer Yassin al-Haj Saleh published an essay entitled “Why Ukraine is a Syrian cause.” In it, he offered a generous gesture of solidarity from a place of pain and embodied knowledge of Russian imperial violence. Several weeks later, Saleh published another piece, this time reflecting on the failure to condemn Russian imperialism in Syria in comparison to Ukraine and exposing profound racism within western institutions of power, including towards people fleeing the war as refugees, where he frames this dynamic as “selective solidarity.” Saleh’s work deeply speaks to me because he is able to address both violences of racial capitalism and of Russian military invasions, exposing their complexities and entanglements. It is this multiplicity of regimes of violence which is unfortunately often missing in some perspectives on Russia’s war on Ukraine, and the war’s international impact, and which I try to understand in this text.