According to the United Nations, over 660,000 Ukrainian citizens have fled their country's borders since Russian President Vladimir Putin instigated his invasion about a week ago, BuzzFeed News reported.
As residents aim to flee — commonly becoming separated from family and loved ones in the process — media outlets have tried to keep the public up to date as the situation develops. However, the wording used by some pundits and reporters has left a sour taste in the mouths of viewers who felt that coverage of Ukraine, a largely white European country, was being harshly juxtaposed against countries home to mostly people of color.
During a segment on CBS News, correspondent Charlie D’Agata said, "Tens of thousands of people have tried to flee the city, there will be many more. People are hiding out in bomb shelters. But this isn't a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European — I have to choose those carefully, too — city where you wouldn't expect that or hope that it's going to happen."
The backlash to D’Agata's classification of Iraq and Afghanistan as "uncivilized" when compared to Ukraine being "civilized" was nearly instant. People online called his words dehumanizing and racist.
Others pointed out that "expecting" conflict in some countries but not others can lead to the justification of horrors done against a group of people — like invasions and war.
And D'Agata's comparison of European versus everyone else read as subtext to simply say that one wouldn't expect refugees fleeing from a country to be white.
Though D'Agata later released an apology, saying, “I spoke in a way I regret, and for that I’m sorry,” he is far from alone in sharing similar sentiments. On BBC News, Ukraine’s deputy chief prosecutor David Sakvarelidze shared, "It's very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed — children being killed — every day with Putin's missiles."
"Shouldn't it be emotional to see anyone being killed?" The View cohost Sunny Hostin questioned, thereby putting many other's thoughts into words.
By getting particularly "emotional" because the refugees in this case are white people, others online felt that the reporter was diminishing the worth of Black and brown people who similarly flee their countries.
Finally, while looking at footage of Ukrainian residents crowding in front of a train in hopes of leaving, two journalists commented on their outfits, saying, "These are prosperous, middle-class people. These are not, obviously, refugees trying to get away from areas in the Middle East that are still in a big state of war. These are not people trying to get away from areas in north Africa. They look like any European family that you would live next door to."
The backlash is not centered around the idea that Ukraine shouldn't receive the coverage it rightly deserves, but instead, that every refugee story should be covered with the same respect and humanity.
For more on this topic, Trevor Noah did a full segment on The Daily Show.