African students and families trapped in Ukraine say they are being blocked from boarding trains or crossing borders to neighboring countries as Russia continues to attack the European country. What has been worrying many since last week is the number of African students stranded in Ukraine at the moment.
Apart from many Africans traveling to Ukraine to work, there are those who go there to study thanks to the European country’s affordable tuition fees and its ties with Africa. Currently, Morocco, Nigeria and Egypt are the African countries with the most students in Ukraine, with Morocco having about 8,000 students and Nigeria with 4,000.
Now, many are concerned about their safety. Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said last week it was putting in place measures to keep its nationals in Ukraine safe and to “facilitate the evacuation of those who wish to leave” as soon as airports re-open.
Nigerian students and other Africans in Ukraine have since been speaking on Twitter about their plight while creating group chats on Telegram and Whatsapp where they are sharing videos that appear to show Africans being blocked from fleeing to safety. Ukrainian border personnel are reportedly helping their fellow citizens cross over to safety first before foreigners.
Nze, a student, said while trying to board a train in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, to safety, he realized that children were the first being allowed to board, followed by White women, White men and then Africans. Poland has also been accused of refusing asylum to Black refugees while allowing in White Ukrainians.
“Black Africans are being treated with racism and contempt in Ukraine & Poland. West cannot ask African nations to stand in solidarity with them if they cannot display basic respect for us even in a time of war. Ignored in a pandemic and left to die in war?!! UNACCEPTABLE,” Dr. Ayoade Alakija, a special envoy at the World Health Organisation, said on Twitter.
Osarumen, a Nigerian national who has lived in Ukraine since 2009, told the Independent that he and his family and other migrants were told to get off a bus about to cross the border on Saturday. “No Blacks,” officials allegedly told him.
“In all of my years as an activist, I have never seen anything like this. When I look into the eyes of those who are turning us away, I see bloodshot racism; they want to save themselves and they are losing their humanity in the process,” said the father of three who said he was stranded at a train station in Kyiv alongside thousands of others.
African embassies have also been criticized for not doing enough to evacuate their citizens. “When the shelling started, a lot of people made their way towards Poland as an impulse reaction … When they got to the border they realised it was just Ukrainians getting access into Poland … We tried contacting the embassy but we got no reply. We just need to cross the border and know that we’re safe and within a short period of time we will find our way back to our country,” one Nigerian student who asked not to be named was quoted by The Irish Times.
Flights are grounded, hence African governments are finding it difficult to support their students. On Thursday, Ghana’s ministry of foreign affairs tweeted that it was “gravely concerned” about the security and safety of its over 1,000 students and other Ghanaians in Ukraine. It went ahead to give contact numbers for officials who could help Ghanaians in Ukraine cross borders.
At the moment, more than 360,000 people have fled Ukraine to countries including Poland, Hungary, Romania and Moldova, as stated by Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees.
Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a military operation in Ukraine on Thursday with explosions heard across the country. Despite international condemnation, Russian troops attacked Ukraine on multiple fronts from Belarus, Russia and Crimea in what experts said could be the start of war in Europe over Russia’s demands for an end to NATO’s eastward expansion.
For a long time, there had been tensions between Russia and Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, but the situation started getting worse in early 2021 when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged U.S. President Joe Biden to let Ukraine join NATO. Russia didn’t like this, and started sending troops near its Ukraine border for “training exercises” in spring last year and later increased it.
Ukraine said on Sunday that more than 200 civilians have been killed in the escalating violence.