March 22, 2023

Diversity is widely accepted in Ukraine – Afro-Ukrainian activist, Alisa Zhuravel

Diversity is widely accepted in Ukraine – Afro-Ukrainian activist, Alisa Zhuravel

By Miftaudeen Raji

Afro-Ukrainian human rights activist, Alisa Zhuravel has affirmed that diversity is widely accepted in Ukraine. 

The activist made this assertion in an exclusive interview with Vanguard.

At the age of 20, Alisa, an Ukrainian with Nigerian roots, learned that identity is about self-understanding, self-acceptance, and self-love. That’s when she started to appreciate her Nigerian roots and respect her Ukrainian-ness. Her interest in the sense of identity and belonging would later turn into a project of national importance.

Alisa was born in Kharkiv, the second-largest city located in northeast Ukraine. Her mother is Ukrainian, and her father is from Nigeria. After graduating with a history degree, Alisa started working in the creative industry, trying out design and digital marketing. Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Alisa’s life has taken a different turn. 

After the war struck Ukraine, she moved to Lviv, in the western part of the country, and started to work with Impact Initiatives. This international humanitarian organization supports projects and policies that positively impact individuals and communities. Alisa is helping with the project that focuses on the experiences of Ukrainian citizens and residents forced to flee the country since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale war. 

For months, Alisa heard one of the critical narratives of Russian propaganda – lies about discrimination and lack of diversity in Ukraine. Outraged by fake news and the absurdity of such claims, Alisa decided to take matters into her own hands. 

Driven to tell stories of people representing Ukraine’s diversity, Alisa launched a social project called Tozhsamist in the late summer of 2022. Derived from a Ukrainian word for sameness and likeness, Tozhsamist shares the life experiences of Ukrainians with diverse backgrounds. It sparks conversation about people’s identities and their sense of belonging in Ukraine, and discusses their personal struggles along the journey. 

“The Tozhsamist project could contribute to debunking a false image of Ukraine that the Russian propaganda has created.. It shows that diversity is not a problem in Ukraine; instead, it’s widely accepted. It is the reality we live in, and it is the truth,” Alisa explained. 

Alisa has already interviewed some people, including Jennifer and Tolu, born to Nigerian parents and living in Kharkiv, and Alan, who has Kazakh roots and lived in Kyiv. Interviews with the Fo Sho band members of three Ethiopian-Ukrainian sisters are coming up. 

All of these people come from different backgrounds; some may identify as Ukrainians, and others may focus on their ancestral roots. 

But all of them have one thing in common – Ukraine is their home, and they cannot imagine otherwise. 


What has been your experience, being a Ukrainian with Nigerian roots and living in Ukraine?

I always say that I’m a Ukrainian with Nigerian roots. These countries, their cultures, and their values have helped me become who I am today. It’s because I accepted my Nigerian roots, I was able to feel like a proud Ukrainian. I feel like a strong, whole person. I’ve lived in Ukraine all my life, and I’ve never had issues with finding a job; I’ve never experienced systematic racism myself. Instead, embracing my identity empowered me, and I started a journey towards reaching my goals.

Why was it important to launch the Tozhsamist project amid Russia’s invasion? 

For many people, Tozhsamist has become a way of rediscovering Ukraine. The Kremlin has been creating a chain of false news about Ukraine and how it treats people from different races, nations, or religions. Meanwhile, Tozhsamist makes it clear that Ukraine is a racially and ethnically diverse country. Through telling stories of different people, the project sparks discussions about the issue, inside and outside Ukraine. And those conversations could help to integrate the idea into our system of values. Once it’s integrated, it becomes a norm, widely known, and accepted. That’s what we are trying to do – to let the world know about Ukraine’s diversity and help them accept it. With that Tozhsamist project contributes to developing a positive culture and building a foundation for a better future.

How do you see the future for Tozhsamist?

Tozhsamist has just started its journey, and there is much more to do. I want to tell stories of more people with diverse backgrounds, help them come together as a community, and then share their experiences with the world for positive change. Tozhsamist’s platform is open to anyone who wants to talk about their roots and experiences. I’d also love to help people from Africa who want to study in Ukraine. In this case, Tozhsamist could become a social project, offering information and legal aid and assisting young people in starting their careers. I think strengthening educational ties is crucial for Ukraine and Africa. It could promote cultural understanding and mutual respect, share knowledge and experience and lead to greater cooperation and collaboration between Ukraine and African nations.