The discussion around the reception of Ukrainian refugees in the EU has been centred on a binary opposition of “white” deserving Ukrainians versus non-white non-European asylum seekers. “Ukrainians receive this support because they are white” – the narrative goes. While it is hard to deny that Ukrainian refugees indeed received more solidarity and support, this narrative simplifies the story and does not account for Ukrainian migrant workers’ long-term circulation across EU borders as cheapened labour before the 2022 invasion. In this article, I question this binary opposition by drawing on a longer-term ethnographic fieldwork among Ukrainian migrant communities in Poland. If we take a longitudinal perspective on Ukrainian migration, it becomes visible how Ukrainian migrant workers were actively welcomed and recruited as desirable and “culturally similar” cheapened labour force in Poland as opposed to non-European asylum seekers kept from entering the EU altogether. Even though their “whiteness” allowed them access to the EU, it has been only conditional upon becoming cheap migrant labour which does not receive social protection and access to the rights enjoyed by white EU citizens.
My article invites the reader to move beyond white/non-white binaries and see Ukrainian “whiteness” from the perspective of multiple hierarchies where one can be both welcomed as migrant labour (unlike other non-European asylum seekers) yet remain excluded from the full benefits of European whiteness.
The article is part of a special issue on race, racialization and the East of the European Union
Find the full text here.