The Russia-Ukraine war, which began in 2014 with Russia’s annexation of Crimea, has been a complex and frequently perplexing conflict that has claimed the lives of thousands of soldiers and civilians. However, one aspect of the war that many people may be surprised by is the presence of Black soldiers fighting on both sides of the conflict.
Black soldiers have been present in Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict, though their presence has not always been well-known or well-documented. Many of these soldiers were recruited from Angola, Cameroon, and Somalia and were motivated by a variety of factors, including a desire to fight for their country, a sense of adventure, or economic opportunity.
On the Ukrainian side, Black soldiers have served in various battalions and units as both regular soldiers and volunteers. Some of these soldiers were drawn to the conflict due to personal ties to Ukraine or support for the Ukrainian cause. Others have been inspired by a desire to fight Russian aggression and defend their homeland.
Alexander Ponomaryov, a Ukrainian-American rapper known as Alex Peace, is one of the most well-known Black soldiers fighting for Ukraine. Ponomaryov, who was born in Ukraine but later moved to the United States, joined the Ukrainian army in 2014 and has since risen to prominence in the Ukrainian military. He has used his music and social media platforms to promote Ukrainian patriotism and raise awareness about the Ukraine war.
Black soldiers have also played a role in the conflict on the Russian side, though their involvement has been more contentious. Many of these soldiers were recruited from African and Middle Eastern countries, and they were offered financial incentives and other benefits to fight for Russia. Zambia recently demanded answers after one of its citizens who was fighting in the war died on the battlefield.
Yevgeny Zhilin, a Russian-born soldier of African descent who has become a celebrity in Russia due to his involvement in the Ukraine war, is one of the most well-known Black soldiers fighting for Russia. Zhilin, who has appeared in numerous Russian media outlets, has been praised for his bravery and patriotism, but he has also been chastised for fighting for a country with a history of racism and discrimination against people of color.