“You are on your own”: African students stranded in Ukraine seek refuge or escape

People on motorcycles drive past the Ukrainian embassy in Abuja, Nigeria on February 25, 2022. REUTERS / Afolabi Sotunde

February 25, 2022

By Cooper Inveen and George Obulutsa

(Reuters) – When Percy Ohene-Yeboah peeked out of his high-rise apartment in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Thursday morning, the street below was blocked by traffic. People hurried along the sidewalks and cycled behind suitcases.

The Ghanaian engineering student went to the other side of the window and discovered why: Russian planes flew low above the city, trying to avoid missiles flying across the sky – something that resembled one of his favorite computer games, Call of Duty.

When the reality unfolded, and had nowhere to turn, packed a 24-year-old bag and ran to the nearest subway station for shelter, one of thousands of African students stranded in Ukraine during the Russian invasion, with no idea how to escape.

“In a situation like this, you are on your own. “You have to find the best way to find refuge for yourself,” he told Reuters by telephone from the basement of a church where he finally sat down on Thursday night.

Tens of thousands of African students studying medicine, engineering and the military live in besieged cities across Ukraine. Morocco, Nigeria and Egypt are among the top 10 countries with foreign students in Ukraine, a total of over 16,000 students, according to the Ministry of Education. Thousands of Indian students are also trying to escape.

What was supposed to be a cheaper alternative to studying in Western Europe or the United States has overnight turned into a war zone where Russian tanks, planes and ships began the largest invasion of European nations since World War II.

Due to flight delays, the African government, thousands of miles away, is struggling to support its students. Students interviewed by Reuters said they had not received any help from home.

“It’s now that the reality is really hitting me,” said Ohene-Yeboah. “I think for me it’s a little too late for evacuation and all that.


Ghana’s student body in Ukraine is large enough to have a local union. In the days leading up to the invasion, the Accra government sent reports on the situation.

“They confirmed they had received such items, but we never got any real answers to any of our concerns,” Ohene-Yeboah said.

Afraid to go west, and without a flight or money, he will stay for a while.

Others are on the move.

As Russian bombs exploded near the capital, Kyiv, 400 km (250 miles) west of Kharkiv, on Thursday morning, a group of Kenyan medical students decided to leave. They have been in contact with officials from their government, said one of them, but they have to find their own way out of Ukraine.

The five students hurried to the train station in Kyiv on Friday morning, hoping to board a train to the western city of Lviv. From there, they aim to cross the border into Poland from where they can return home.

Space on board the train is not guaranteed.

“It simply came to our notice then. “Everyone is fleeing the city,” said one medical student, who did not give his name.

She and her colleagues had nothing with them in the race, only vital documents.

“We can not carry luggage. Baggage will leave us behind. ”

(Publication by Edward McAllister; Editing by Alison Williams)

“You are on your own”: African students stranded in Ukraine seek refuge or escape

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