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Ukraine war: African students scramble to flee

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Poland, Mar 01: Three Nigerian students, Joseph, Eric and Francis, were among the tens of thousands of people who crossed from Ukraine into Poland on Monday.

Speaking to DW's correspondent at the Polish border town of Korczowa, the three said their journey through Ukraine had been made even more difficult because of their skin color.

Ukraine war: African students scramble to flee

"There is a lot of discrimination going on there," Joseph, a computer engineering student, told DW. "We actually had to beg people to take us to the border so we could find a way to escape."

They are not alone in their complaints. A number of Africans trying to flee Ukraine after Russia invaded last Thursday say they have had problems getting buses or trains to Ukraine's borders because they were black.

Complaints that Ukrainians given priority

Others say that once they arrive at border crossings, Ukrainian border guards are prioritizing Ukrainians and sending others, such as people from African countries, to the back of the queue, some of which stretch for tens of kilometers.

That's the experience of Kouadio Simeon from the Ivory Coast.

Simeon, a recent graduate who had been studying in the heavily bombed northeastern city of Kharkiv, traveled more than 1,000 km (620 m) west through the country to the Ukrainian city of Lviv, some 74 km from the border to Poland.

From there, he and his friends managed to get on a bus but it only drove them about a dozen kilometers out of town, he told DW.

"Then we walked more than 65 km in very cold temperatures," he said, to get to the Ukraine-Polish border.

When they arrived, Ukrainian officials didn't allow them through to the Polish border post.

"The situation near the Polish border is very difficult," Simeon said. "We arrived today but foreigners are not allowed to cross the border, meaning we will stay here [in Ukraine] in the cold," Simeon told DW.

The area around Lviv had a maximum temperature of 2 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit) on Monday.

South Africa's foreign ministry spokesperson, Clayson Monyela, has also tweeted that South African students had been having problems getting across the border, saying they were "treated badly".

Ukraine war: African students scramble to flee

Happy to be in Poland

But other African students have had a difference experience at the border.

Nineteen-year old Nigerian medical student Sarah Ajifa Idachaba told DW that she and her older sister, who was also studying medicine in Ukraine, had managed to escape the capital Kyiv and had arrived safely in Poland on Sunday.

"During the journey, it was okay until we got to the Ukrainian border. There was a long queue and we spent a whole day at the border," Idachaba said. "We had our fears and expectations because people who came before us had told us that they were racially profiled and not allowed to go through."

But upon alighting from the bus and going through passport control, the two students were allowed to continue to the Polish border, she told DW in an interview on Monday.

Idachaba had told DW last Thursday, the day of the Russian invasion, that she and her older sister, who was also studying in Ukraine, were "in a panic" because they didn't know how they would be able to leave the country and start making their way home.

Nearly a quarter of the more than 75,000 foreigners studying in Ukraine are African — with the largest numbers coming from Morocco, Egypt, Nigeria and Ghana. Many are attracted by the country's good technical and medical schools combined with relatively low fees.

EU: All refugees from Ukraine welcome

Ukraine has a visa-free regime with neighboring European Union countries, meaning that Ukrainians can pass the borders without having to hold a valid visa or additional documentation.

This has made it easy for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion to leave.

Normally, people from African nations have to apply for a Schengen visa to enter EU members, Poland, Romania and Hungary.

However, the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, has made it clear that the borders were also open to people from third countries who lived in Ukraine and wanted to travel onward to their home countries.

"Those people must be helped. Moreover, those in need of protection in the EU can also apply for asylum."

The Polish government has tweeted several times stressing that it is accepting all refugees fleeing war-hit Ukraine regardless of their nationality.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has triggered the biggest displacement of people in Europe since the end of World War 2, with the United Nations estimating that more than 500,000 have fled the country in the five days since Russian President Vladimir Putin order troops into Ukraine.

Waiting for help

As for Sarah Ajifa Idachaba and her sister, they are just hoping to soon be able to travel home to Nigeria.

She says little aid has come from the Nigerian government so far.

"We are footing our bills, paying for our accommodation only because the arrangements made by the Nigerian embassy [in Berlin] weren't sustainable," she said.

"Luckily for us, we were able to find affordable accommodation. We are now waiting for our flights to Nigeria this week," she said.

Max Zander in Korczowa, Poland, contributed to this article.

Edited by; Kate Hairsine

Source: DW

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