As Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Thursday, thousands of African students across the country found themselves trapped by the fighting and afraid for their safety.
Korrine Sky, a 26-year-old second-year medical student in Dnipro, told Insider that she has coordinated hundreds of African students across the country as they scramble to find a way out.
“I’m very, very afraid,” Sky said. “We’re not getting any help from any of the embassies. They have pretty much just said, ‘save yourselves.'”
Ukraine is home to thousands of African students who study medicine, engineering, and other technical fields at affordable prices compared with the rest of Europe and the United States.
Morocco, Nigeria, and Egypt are in the top 10 countries with students in Ukraine, in total sending over 16,000 students to the country, according to the education ministry.
Vukile Dlamini, a South African student in Vinnytsia, told Insider that when Russia launched its offensive on Thursday, she awoke to the sounds of sirens and bombs.
“When the sirens would go off, we would run to the bomb-proof bunkers until the coast was clear,” she said.
Dlamini said that she was now making her way to the Romanian border with other South African students to try and leave the country.
“We are several hours away from the border, and we are trying to stay calm,” Dlamini said. “Right now, we are only traveling with our emergency bags that have our documents and we have small bags with non-perishable goods and small water bottles.”
She said that African students are traveling in buses with flags so that Russians would not mistake their movements at night as a threat.
As cities across Ukraine are attacked, many African students are feeling desperate and abandoned.
Some African embassies have urged their citizens to try and keep safe in Ukraine but have provided no plans to evacuate them.
Nigerian student unions in Ukraine told Al Jazeera that they have tried to contact their embassy in Kyiv but have received no response.
With little help from their home countries, Sky and other students are crowdsourcing resources to help each other find ways out of the country.
Sky said she has located around 442 African students and added them to WhatsApp and Telegram group chats, and the numbers continue to grow.
She said that the community mobilization among African students had been “heartwarming to witness.”
With flights out of the country grounded, the most common route to leave is to cross the border into countries like Poland and Romania.
According to Sky, some African students have struggled to get on buses heading to the border.
“Some people have gone to get buses, but they’re not allowing Black people basically onto the buses. They’re prioritizing Ukrainians. That’s what they say,” Sky said.
Sky, a British citizen of African heritage, has not been able to organize a visa for her fiancé. Many African students face additional difficulties that come with not having European citizenship.
The Polish government has said that foreigners without a valid visa are permitted to enter the country and remain for up to 15 days. due to the ongoing conflict
With the uncertainty of what the future holds, on Friday afternoon Sky and her fiancé packed their bags and began the 580-mile journey to Poland by car.
“We were supposed to get married tomorrow, actually, but then all of this happened,” Sky said. “This has been an absolute shock.”
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