Ukraine horror: East Africans tell of violence, racism

Saturday March 05 2022

Nationals from different countries - from Africa, the Middle East and India - mostly students of Ukrainian universities are seen at the Medyka pedestrian border crossing fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, in eastern Poland on February 27, 2022. PHOTO | AFP

By The EastAfrican

Karanja Mwaura had settled in Ukraine, having moved from Kenya more than five years ago. Then Russia invaded the country and he had to leave hurriedly.

So he boarded a train from Kyiv headed for Uzhgorod, west of the country near the border with Hungary, along with other Africans.

At the station, women and children had right of way. But Caucasians were cleared first to board, he says. When their turn came, there were not enough seats on the train. “We would have to stand for the whole trip of 14 hours,” he recalls. The trip took 20 hours.

“I decided to head to Hungary, having heard the horror stories of how African students were being treated at the Polish border,” he said.

Videos he shared with The EastAfrican show him crammed with others in train wagons, sitting on the floor, standing in corners or sharing available seats.

“The silver lining? The beautiful views outside, and the women who shared their sandwiches,” he said. At Lviv, near the border with Poland, they proceeded south. There he met a Tanzanian first-year student with whom he took a taxi to Chop, farther south. The taxi fare had been increased four times, he said.


“After clearing the roadblocks, we were lucky to arrive at Hungarian Customs. The situation was the same there. Africans and Indians were being delayed, while Ukrainians were being quickly processed.”

Mr Mwaura was among 201 Kenyans living in Ukraine. At least 74 of them left the country, Kenya’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

Read: Ukraine war: Over 70 Kenyan students evacuated

Staying put

Msabah Salum Msabah, a Tanzanian student of medicine at Ukraine's Sumy National University near the Russian border, opted to stay put, along with others, in the hope that the conflict would ebb quickly.

“All the Tanzanians here in Sumy are safe so far, but everyone in this town is fearful of what could happen next," he told Tanzania’s Wasafi TV channel. “Some people are still trying to move to safer parts of the country although it has become almost impossible to get out. There are soldiers and roadblocks everywhere, most of the roads out of town have become impassable because of the damage. We are stuck here.

“Banks have been closed indefinitely and most other businesses have also been shut down. Only essential services like supermarkets, hospitals and pharmacies are still operating," he said.

Officially, 150 Tanzanian students are enrolled at Sumy University. Mr Msabah said he and others are in regular contact with their relatives in Tanzania. "People at home don’t need to be too worried about us... we are okay,” he said.

Request for help

A few days earlier, Tanzanian students at Sumy University formally requested government help. “We need funds for upkeep and travel costs in the event we may have to leave," said the group calling itself TASU.

According to Tanzania's Foreign Affairs Ministry, 38 Tanzanians exited Ukraine into Poland by Tuesday. They were granted 55-day visas to make arrangements to go home.

Another 71 students entered Hungary, 11 of whom have returned to Tanzania and 59 to other countries. One remained quarantined in Hungary after being diagnosed with Covid-19, ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Buhohela said on Wednesday.

Three more students left Ukraine through Romania; one arrived in Tanzania and the other two headed for Slovakia and Denmark respectively.

Speaking at a meeting in Dar es Salaam with parents of Tanzanian students in Ukraine on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Liberata Mulamula said the government has initiated talks with the Russian embassy in Tanzania for the students to be provided with safe passage through the Russian border.

Read: Ukraine war: 4 Tanzanians make it home

Unsafe zones

Rwandan students in Ukraine said they are stranded in unsafe zones with no food or means to flee. There were 86 Rwandans in Ukraine, and, according to deputy government spokesperson Alain Mukuralinda, 51 have been evacuated to Poland and Hungary and 15 are still stuck in the war zones.

Some families with relatives in Ukraine took to Twitter to urge officials to help.

“We have some students who are still stuck in Sumy with limited resources, no food, and no transportation to get them to safety. Others have travelled over 70km from Lviv to the Poland border on foot,” Cynthia Kagambirwa who has a brother in Sumy, posted on Twitter in a letter addressed to President Paul Kagame.

Read: Rwandans in Ukraine urged to reach border to get help

Somalia Foreign Minister Abdisaid Muse Ali said on Thursday that Somali students fleeing the conflict will continue their studies in Hungary and Serbia. He spoke with Hungarian counterpart Péter Szijjártó for arrangements for students to get temporary accommodation.

“I have received reassurances that Somali students whose studies in Ukraine have been interrupted will continue their studies at Hungarian universities with accommodation provided.”

- Aggrey Mutambo, Bob Karashani, Ange Iliza and Abdulkadir Khalif