International students refuse to leave their pets behind amid conflict in Ukraine
A student holds his pet cat after arriving at the airport following their evacuation from Ukraine due to Russia's invasion. Source: Arun Sankar/AFP

The conflict in Ukraine has displaced some two million people since Russian troops invaded its cities, triggering a new wave of humanitarian and refugee crises in Europe. Among those fleeing the war are international students in Ukraine, who have been hit with the twofold misery: disrupted study plans and alleged racism at borders when fleeing to safety. 

Even with the threat of danger at every corner, many refuse to leave their four-legged companions behind. Reports of Indian and Moroccan students arriving in their home country with their pets from Ukraine have gone viral on social media, winning the sympathy of pet lovers worldwide.

Keralan student Akhil Radhakrishnan declined to part with his beloved pet cat Ammini, whom he acquired from a senior four months prior. “She is very lovely and I can’t separate from her and I am glad that the Embassy of India in Ukraine is now allowing me to take her along,” the student was reported saying with a huge sigh of relief after securing safe passage for the both of them. 

The Kharkiv National Medical University student had a gruelling two-week journey of escaping Ukraine, including several road travels and three train rides, reported NDTV. Radhakrishnan is now awaiting a flight by the Indian Air Force that would take him and his beloved Ammini home. 

Arya Aldrin, another student from Kerala who was studying at the National Pirogov Memorial Medical University, endured a harrowing 20km trek carrying Zaira, her five-month-old Siberian husky in freezing weather after a bus dropped her close to the Romanian border. 

Although there is no guarantee whether her dog would be permitted in the evacuation flight, Aldrin is determined to bring Zaira along. “I have sacrificed a lot to bring her along with me. After going through so much hardships, if I am not able to take her on the flight with me, all of my efforts would go in vain. So please all of you, pray for us,” she was quoted saying by The Indian Express.

Aldrin’s dedication to her pet has even earned the praise of Kerala’s Education Minister, V Sivankutty, who admired her efforts in a Facebook post. Aldrin and her dog are reportedly safe at a Romanian airport, and are waiting to board an evacuation flight to India.

At the Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca, a video showing pets on a conveyor belt has surfaced on social media, reportedly belonging to Moroccan students returning home to escape the conflict in Ukraine. More than 300 students have landed at the airport to emotional reunions with family members since March 1, 2022, The National News reports.

International students refuse to leave their pets behind amid conflict in Ukraine

A Moroccan student studying in Ukraine and fleeing the war arrives with her cat at the Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca. Source: Fadel Senna/AFP

Conflict in Ukraine: Pets prioritised over humans?  

The heartwarming stories of pet-owning students escaping war can’t eclipse the continued racism that international students have reportedly faced in crossing the nearest border. Jessica Orakpo, a Nigerian medical student, claimed that animals were being evacuated before foreigners. The level of animosity that African students endured was “dehumanising”, she told The Voice, a British-based news site.

“The first bus went, the second bus went and when the third bus came, people were putting their pets on and making space for their animals and it was just unfair,” said Orakpo. “I saw a family with their dogs and their pet cages on the bus, but they were not letting African students on the bus.”

Elsewhere, Indian students stranded at the Polish border recount similar treatment after fleeing the conflict in Ukraine. 

“The Ukrainians were going through with their dogs and cats. Even they were treated better than the Indian students,” medical student Muhammad, who hails from New Delhi, was quoted saying. “We’ve never felt anything like that. I thought the racism that we saw there, the treatment of Indian people, was like we were living in the 19th century.”