Selective Sympathy Corrupts Russia-Ukraine War Coverage


Kate Lustgarten, Staff Writer


In light of the Russia-Ukraine War, I’ve noticed that many have unveiled their deep-rooted racist views and double standards. The media selectively sympathizes with Ukrainian people’s sufferings to a far greater extent than those from other countries, like Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, and several others, who are also fleeing their war-ridden home. Obviously all of these countries deserve our concern, but why does Ukraine receive far more attention in the news and generate more of a widespread outrage?


We sympathize with Ukrainians as they battle Russian forces, but at the same time we turn a blind eye to the sufferings of others. The fact of the matter is that all of these people deserve our attention and help regardless of their demographics. This selective sympathy dangerously enables xenophobia – the distrust of people from certain countries. It conditions us via news reports, the media, conversations, and other casual, seemingly innocent occurrences to see some as inherently lesser than others.


As Ukrainian refugees crowd European borders seeking asylum, Western media portrays them as needy and sorrowful, but refugees everywhere else don’t get the same treatment. As a matter of fact, they’re portrayed in a completely distorted manner as they’re shamed, looked down upon, and labeled as potential terrorists. These double standards are extremely cruel, dangerous, and twisted. 


Many news reporters have openly displayed their racial biases when dismissing non-European refugees and victims while glorifying Ukrainian refugees. Rather than acknowledge the pain and suffering Ukrainian refugees are experiencing while also speaking of all refugees worldwide with the humanity they deserve, reporters have decided to pick and choose those who are worthy of the world’s attention.


An article written by Daniel Hannan exhibits selective sympathy as he writes: “They [Ukrainians] seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking. Ukraine is a European country. Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts, vote in free elections, and read uncensored newspapers.” His words embody selective sympathy as he pities the Ukrainians specifically for exhibiting aspects of typical Western features like having access to the internet.  


CBS News foreign correspondent Charlie D’Agata commented: “[Ukraine] 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 words carefully, too – city where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.” His words display xenophobia as he essentially characterizes countries outside of Europe as uncivilized. He chooses to sympathize with the Ukrainian people more so for their association with the Western world rather than the fact that they’re suffering.  


On France’s BFMTV, one analyst said that “we’re not talking here about Syrians fleeing the bombing of the Syrian regime backed by Putin, we’re talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours…to save their lives.” This statement reflects an us vs. them mentality, a perilous mindset whereby one is incline divides people into distinct groups 


Ukraine’s former deputy general prosecutor, David Sakvarelidze, said in a BBC news segment: “It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blonde hair and blue eyes being killed every day with Putin’s missiles and his helicopters and his rockets.” The same Russians have killed blue eyed and blonde haired children in Syria, but apparently their actions are only criticized when this takes place in European countries. 


ITV News correspondent Lucy Watson reported: “[Ukraine] is not a developing third world nation… this is Europe”, as if European countries are immune from struggle. Al Jazeera English presenter Peter Dobbie described Ukrainians fleeing the war as “prosperous, middle-class people” who “are not obviously refugees trying to get away from the Middle East…or North Africa. They look like any European family that you would live next door to.”


NBC News correspondent Kelly Cobiella stated that “these are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from Ukraine…They’re Christian, they’re white, they’re very similar.”  


This commentary reflects the pervasive mentality in Western journalism of normalizing tragedy in different parts of the world. I always find it ironic how these reporters and countless others are so quick to conveniently forget about European-ignited atrocities and war crimes like the Holocaust when reflecting on other countries and their conflicts. They always assume European countries are in a position of superiority and perfection while painting everyone else as third world and uncivilized. 


This concept is prevalent in today’s society and is exhibited in countless other news reports. The media is obsessed with normalizing war and conflicts in all countries outside of Europe despite much of Europe being involved with these conflicts that leave millions to die or suffer. And when war does occur in Europe, we treat those impacted with significantly more sympathy than we do elsewhere. 


Hopefully more light is shed upon this issue and people will become aware of the selective sympathy in the media and world, call it out when recognized, and correct themselves and others who may exhibit it.