Indian and African students fleeing Ukraine say they face racism at the border

An African medical student told CNN she and other foreigners were ordered off the public transport bus at a checkpoint between Ukraine and the Polish border.

They were told to stand aside as the bus drove off with only Ukrainian nationals on board, she said.

Rachel Onyegbule, a Nigerian first-year medical student in Lviv, found herself stranded in the border town of Shehyni, about 640 km from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

She told CNN: “More than 10 buses arrived and we were watching everyone leave. We thought that after they picked up all the Ukrainians they would take us, but they told us we had to walk, that there was no there were no more buses and told us to walk.”

“My body was numb from the cold and we haven’t slept for about 4 days now. The Ukrainians took precedence over the Africans – men and women – at all times. We don’t need to ask why. We know why. I just want to go home,” Onyegbule told CNN in a phone call Sunday as she waited in line at the border to enter Poland.

Onyegbule says she finally had her discharge document stamped on Monday morning around 4:30 a.m. local time.

Allegations of violence

Saakshi Ijantkar, a fourth-year Indian medical student, also shared her ordeal with CNN on Monday via a phone call from Lviv in western Ukraine.

“There are three checkpoints that we have to go through to get to the border. A lot of people are stuck there. They don’t allow the Indians to pass.

CNN was unable to confirm the identities or affiliations of the people operating the checkpoints, but Ijantkar said they were all wearing uniforms.

Russia steps up war efforts in Ukraine amid ongoing talks in Belarus

They only allow 30 Indians after 500 Ukrainians enter. To get to this border, you have to walk 4 to 5 kilometers from the first checkpoint to the second. Ukrainians get taxis and buses to travel, all other nationalities have to walk. They were very racist towards Indians and other nationalities,” the 22-year-old from Mumbai told CNN.

She added that she had witnessed violence by guards towards students waiting on the Ukrainian side of the Shehyni-Medyka border.

Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 are no longer allowed to leave the country, but this decree does not apply to foreign men.

Ijantkar says he saw Indian men queuing for long hours with other non-Ukrainian nationalities.

“They were very cruel. The second checkpoint was the worst. When they opened the gate for you to cross the Ukrainian border, you stay between Ukraine and Poland, the Ukrainian army does not allow Indian men and boys to cross when you They only allowed Indian girls in. We literally had to cry and beg at their feet After the Indian girls entered, the boys were beaten. there was no reason for them to beat us with this cruelty,” Ijantkar said.

“I saw an Egyptian man standing in front with his hands on the rails, and because of that, a guard pushed him so hard and the man hit the fence, which is covered in spikes, and he got passed out,” she said. .

“We took him outside for CPR. They didn’t care and they beat the students, they didn’t care about us, only Ukrainians,” she added.

CNN contacted the Ukrainian military in light of the abuse allegations, but did not immediately respond.

Freezing conditions

Ijantkar said many students waited at least a day, but she eventually returned to Lviv because she was terrified, waiting in freezing temperatures without food, water or blankets.

“I’ve seen people shivering so terribly in the cold, they’re collapsing from hypothermia. Some have frostbite and blisters. We couldn’t get help and we’ve been standing for hours,” she said.

Andriy Demchenko, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Border Guard Service, told CNN on Monday that claims of border segregation are false and that guards work under enormous pressure at the borders — but work within the law.

“Since the day when (Russian President Vladimir) Putin launched an attack on Ukraine, the influx of people trying to leave Ukraine and the war zone has increased significantly. If before, people trying to cross the border to the European Union and back amounted to up to 50,000 (people) a day, now the number has doubled and continues to increase. There is enormous pressure on checkpoints, on border guards .

“In order to speed up the process and allow more people to cross, the government has simplified the border crossing procedure as much as possible. Due to the increase in the number of individuals crossing, people have to stay in long However, I can say that everything happens according to the law.There is absolutely no division by nation, citizenship or class at the border,” Demchenko said.

Ukraine attracts many foreign students to study medicine because it has a strong reputation for medical courses and tuition fees – and other expenses are much lower than programs in other Western countries.

Another stranded student told CNN on Sunday that border staff on the Ukrainian side of the border were biased against foreign students.

“They deprive foreigners. They are very racist with us at the border. They tell us that Ukrainian citizens must pass first while telling foreigners to stay back,” said Nneka Abigail, a 23-year-old medical student. years old from Nigeria. .

“It is very difficult at the moment for Nigerians and other foreigners to cross. The Ukrainian authorities are allowing more Ukrainians to enter Poland. For example, around 200-300 Ukrainians can cross, then only 10 foreigners or 5 will be allowed to go through…and the duration is too long. It’s really hard…they push us, kick us, insult us,” Abigail said.

Africans are sharing their experiences online using the hashtag #AfricansinUkraine. Their stories have sparked an outcry and a number of crowdfunding appeals have been launched in an attempt to help those stranded in the country.

People fleeing violence in Ukraine are seen at the pedestrian border crossing in Medyka, eastern Poland, February 27, 2022.

One of those who shared their story online is Korrine Sky, a medical student from Zimbabwe who had been studying in Ukraine since September.

She fled the country on Friday but, with the help of two London-based friends, managed to raise more than £20,000 ($26,800) to help stranded Afro-Caribbean students.

“The situation we find ourselves in is a life or death situation. We must ensure that all African students cross the border successfully and safely,” she said on Instagram live on the side Sunday. border Romanian. .

About 500,000 refugees from Ukraine have so far crossed to neighboring European countries, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, noted Monday.

Are countries of origin doing enough to help their citizens?

Some of those interviewed by CNN said they did not blame Ukrainian authorities for prioritizing their citizens, but rather their own governments for not making arrangements to help them get out of the country.

The “Nigerian government is showing its usual nonchalance,” Onyegbule said.

“There are many of us in Ukraine. They can’t leave us like this. It’s so sad but we are used to bad governance in Nigeria. It’s very sad.”

Onyegbule acknowledged that there were Nigerian officials waiting to meet her and others once she crossed over to Poland.

“It would have been so helpful in Ukraine, we were looking for someone to speak on our behalf there.”

Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama said on Twitter that Ukrainian authorities had assured him that there were no restrictions on foreigners wishing to leave Ukraine.

“The problem is the result of the chaos at the border and the checkpoints leading to it,” he said, adding that he “personally coordinates with our missions in Ukraine, Poland, Russia, Romania and in Hungary to ensure that we get our citizens out of Ukraine and bring back to Nigeria those who are ready to return while supporting those who remain in Ukraine.”

Smoke rises above the town of Vasylkiv, just outside Kiev, on February 27, 2022, after Russian airstrikes hit an oil depot overnight.

CNN has contacted Onyeama to comment on allegations that the Nigerian government has not done enough to help its citizens leave Ukraine.

African nations on the UN Security Council on Monday condemned discrimination against African citizens on the Ukrainian border during a UNSC meeting at UN headquarters in New York.

“We strongly condemn this racism and believe it undermines the spirit of solidarity that is so urgent today. The mistreatment of African people at Europe’s borders must stop immediately, whether Africans fleeing Ukraine or those crossing the Mediterranean,” Kenya’s UN Ambassador Martin Kimani said on Monday.

Onyegbule, the first-year medical student, said she was drawn to studying in Ukraine because she was looking for a “safe and cheap option outside of Nigeria”.

“In general, life in Ukraine is peaceful, it’s a beautiful country. Sometimes people on trams don’t want to sit next to you and they stare at you, but in general, Ukrainians are people cool,” she said.

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