The latest news on Ukraine today shows that the situation is getting dire for international students, many of whom are struggling to flee the country due to a barrage of racism from Ukrainian authorities.
Reports say a host of Indian and African students trying to escape to neighbouring countries have been allegedly held back by Ukrainian soldiers. Students are being forced off public trains and buses, with preferential treatment given to Ukrainians seeking safety.
Many are turning to social media, using hashtags such as #SaveIndiansinUkraine and #AfricansinUkraine, to shed light on their mistreatment. Pictures and videos are circulating online of African nationals being blocked from boarding trains.
“People who look like me are stranded at the borders all because of their skin colour,” a nurse in Canada tweeted. “Some have fainted, many suffering from frostbite & hypothermia, some close to the point of death. No food, no warmth. Where is your soul?”
— The Grapevine (@TheGrapevineTV) February 27, 2022
Rachel Onyegbule, a Nigerian first-year medical student in Lviv, told CNN that she was left stranded between the Ukraine and Poland border after watching “more than 10 buses” leave. Ukrainian nationals were prioritised for travel.
“We thought after they took all the Ukrainians they would take us, but they told us we had to walk, that there were no more buses and told us to walk,” she was quoted saying.
“My body was numb from the cold and we haven’t slept in about four days now. Ukrainians have been prioritised over Africans — men and women — at every point. There’s no need for us to ask why. We know why. I just want to get home.”
On Wednesday, some 1,000 Indian students were stuck at a train station in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Ukrainian soldiers allegedly threatened to shoot those who tried to board the train.
My brother, Divyansh Dixit with other 1000 Indian students are stuck at Pivdennyi Vokzal Railway station. Ukrainians soldiers are threatening to shoot if they try to aboard the train. A missile blasted near the station by the Russian fighter. Students trying to go underground.
— Rishabh Dixit (@Rishabh26028115) March 2, 2022
At the border town of Shehyni, some 400 miles from Ukraine’s capital, Indian student Saakshi Ijantkar claimed that they only allowed “30 Indians only after 500 Ukrainians get in”.
“To get to this border you need to walk four to five kilometres from the first checkpoint to the second one,” the fourth-year medical student told CNN. “Ukrainians are given taxis and buses to travel, all other nationalities have to walk. They were very racist to Indians and other nationalities.”
The New York Times reported that Ukraine’s deputy interior minister, Anton Heraschenko, denies any preferential treatment towards Ukrainians.
“Everything is simple,” he said. “We are first to release women and children. Foreign men must wait for women and children to come forward. We will release all foreigners without hindrance. Same goes for blacks.”
Nigerian student Jessica, who managed to arrive in Hungary on Monday, describes a different story. She had to walk for more than 12 hours to reach a shelter after roads were blocked. When she tried to board a bus the next morning, she was denied entry.
“The official literally looked me in the eye and said in his language, ‘Only Ukrainians, that’s all’,” she told the BBC. “That if you are black, you should walk. And that was an additional eight hours from where we were. By car, it was like 30 minutes.”
‘They said if you’re black, you should walk’
Nigerian student Jessica has kept in touch with us about her journey out of Ukraine. She is among the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the country, and one of many #AfricansinUkraine who have described facing racism at borders. pic.twitter.com/OTTx6wxVDY
— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) March 1, 2022
The Embassy of India in Ukraine is urging students to “leave Kharkiv immediately” for their own safety and security.
“Those students who cannot find vehicles or buses and are in railway stations can proceed on foot,” it said in its latest statement.
— India in Ukraine (@IndiainUkraine) March 2, 2022
The news on Ukraine today shows that Indian students have resorted to walking through dimly-lit metro tunnels to leave the city.
All of a sudden we receive urgent
advisory from the Indian Embassy to
leave Kharkiv & the next thing I hear is
‘” almost 300 Indian students walking
through the metro tunnel to save their lives” #SaveIndiansInUkraine #Kharkiv #UkraineRussianWar pic.twitter.com/gnjVMMWYTL
— Avikzz (@Avigzzz) March 2, 2022
News on Ukraine today: Mistreatment and violence at the border
International students in Ukraine have been stuck for days at the borders of neighbouring European countries. Reports say they have been held up by Ukrainian authorities, who pushed them to the end of long lines and reportedly beat them.
Nigerian Chineye Mbagwu was stranded at the Poland-Ukraine border for more than two days. “The Ukrainian border guards were not letting us through,” the 24-year-old told The New York Times. “They were beating people up with sticks,” she added, and tearing off their jackets. “They would slap them, beat them and push them to the end of the queue. It was awful.”
Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave the country, with priority given to women and children. This decree does not apply to men who are foreign nationals. However, Ijantkar claimed she saw Indian men being left in long queues for hours.
“They were very cruel,” she told CNN. “When they opened the gate to cross to the Ukrainian border … the Ukrainian army didn’t allow Indian men and boys to cross. They only allowed the Indian girls to get in. We had to literally cry and beg at their feet. After the Indian girls got in, the boys were beaten up. There was no reason for them to beat us with this cruelty.”
“I saw an Egyptian man standing at the front with his hands on the rails, and because of that one guard pushed him with so much force and the man hit the fence, which is covered in spikes, and he lost consciousness,” she added. “We took him outside to give him CPR. They just didn’t care and they were beating the students, they didn’t give two hoots about us, only the Ukrainians.”
Mbagwu describes a similar situation at the border to Poland. “They would say ‘only women and children can pass through,’” she said. “But they were letting some Ukrainian men through. And whenever a Black lady would try to pass, they said: ‘Our women first.’”
Some international students were also without proper clothes for the cold and were left to wait in the snow. Eyewitness accounts claimed that students were dying by the road side from hypothermia and heart attacks.
“Everyone was trying to make a campfire, but soldiers or guards, try to stop the fire, in general, they come, and they try to stop the fire, and they really hit [us],” Fedy Ben Bahim, an 18-year-old medical student from Tunisia, told The Telegraph. “If you resist, they will hit you back.”
“People were just vomiting and passing out. You don’t see them wake up,” added Ahmed, a Palestinian medical student.
Ukraine has established an emergency hotline for foreign students seeking to leave the country. Students can reach the hotline at +380934185684.