Russia – Ukraine: War sees many Africans left stranded, with no aid

By Jaysim Hanspal
Posted on Tuesday, 1 March 2022 18:35, updated on Tuesday, 8 March 2022 15:50

Russian invasion of Ukraine continues
Foreign nationals fleeing Russia's invasion of Ukraine wait at the Shehyni border crossing to enter Poland, near Mostyska, Ukraine March 1, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The Ukrainian war has seen many of its citizens flee abroad, but many African immigrants in Ukraine are reportedly being barred from leaving.

Updated 03 March at 5:51pm (paris)

Videos posted to Twitter show distressed Africans being barred from entering trains which are currently one of the only safe methods of transportation out of Ukraine.

The Russian invasion has led to widespread terror as millions try to flee violence while Ukraine’s major cities struggle to maintain resistance.

On 26 February, Polish citizens Jan and Anna (real names changed for security reasons), were returning to Poland from Lviv in Western Ukraine, as part of a volunteer group. Speaking to The Africa Report from Poland, Anna says: “The situation at the border was very bad. Thousands of people were standing at the [train] doors and trying to get to the country.”

Train from Lviv, Ukraine heading to Poland. (Photo credit: Anna and Jan)

According to the couple, women, children, and African students are separated into groups to board the train.

“I overheard some students saying they weren’t allowed to board the train. They were stuck at the border and desperate. At around midnight when we arrived students were lying on the floor with blankets covering them. There is no aid, no support, no food or blankets provided,” says Anna.

Children on a train leaving Lviv, Ukraine. (Photo credit: Anna and Jan)

There have been reports that border guards at train stations are preventing Africans from boarding trains as supposed policy. According to the couple, this seems to be the case.

“I overheard there was some kind of policy that they could not go to Poland or any other European countries. I saw an African man holding a baby outside all day with his kids and wife, all speaking Ukrainian fluently. It was snowing that day in Lviv, and it was freezing. He managed to enter the train, but the police were trying to get him out, saying he was not a priority and it was not policy. The man lay down on the floor and said he was protecting his kids.”

Both Ukrainian and Polish officials have denied these claims. Other volunteers have created a Google document of over 300 citizens who are travelling between Ukraine and Poland and can offer transportation to those unable to board trains.

Students in Sumy

Oluwale Kennard, a Nigerian medical student from the UK was studying in Ukraine when the conflict broke out. Like many, he says he experienced racism when attempting to evacuate to Poland, something he did not notice during his time at university in Ukraine.

In a now-deleted tweet, he said: “I’m a medical student from the UK currently trapped in Ukraine. The situation here is very tense, especially for us black people.”

He is currently waiting for evacuation from a refugee camp in Sumy, Ukraine, about 48km from the border with Russia. Terrified, Oluwale and other African students trapped in Sumy are relying on the kindness of local shopkeepers and strangers to charge their phones or provide rations.

Speaking to The Africa Report, he says: “We don’t know if we’ll be alive tomorrow to even be evacuated. It will take seven days to get to the Polish border but there are no routes.”

On Friday 4 March, Russian and Ukrainian delegations agreed to a humanitarian corridor including Sumy, however, according to social media testimonies, this is made impossible without a ceasefire due to ongoing fighting which makes evacuation extremely unsafe.

Fierce responses

In response to the intense online backlash, the African Union made a statement on Monday regarding the rumours. It reads that the AU is “particularly disturbed by reports that African citizens on the Ukrainian side of the border are being refused the right to cross the border to safety.”

It continues: “Reports that Africans are singled out for unacceptable dissimilar treatment would be shockingly racist and in breach [of] international law.”

The hashtag #AfricansinUkraine is being used on Twitter to spread awareness of this issue, as well as to share numbers of relevant embassies and helplines.

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs tweeted his support to help Africans evacuate. He said: “Africans seeking evacuation are our friends and need to have equal opportunities to return to their home countries safely. Ukraine’s government spares no effort to solve the problem.”

Help from home

Ayoade Alakija, a special envoy for the World Health Organization’s ACT acceleration project, confirmed on Twitter on Monday 28 February  that two people died due to waiting in the cold.

Many African nations are desperately trying to provide assistance to their citizens in Ukraine.

Egypt:

Egypt’s ambassador to Romania, Moayad el-Dalie, confirmed that the Egyptian government decided to send an evacuation plane to arrive in Bucharest yesterday (1 March). 360 Egyptians are currently in the capital of Bucharest.

The Egyptian Embassy in Kyiv stated earlier that it is difficult to reach Egyptians in the cities of Kharkiv, Kherson, and Dnipro due to the military operations and unsafe roads. They have asked that Egyptians in those cities await further embassy instructions while safe transportation is arranged.

Kenya:

The Kenyan Foreign Affairs Ministry says it has negotiated for Kenyans to be allowed to leave Ukraine and temporarily stay in any of its neighbouring EU members.

In a statement, it said: “The government negotiated for unrestricted entry of Kenyans into the neighbouring EU states, a request that was honoured by Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania that Kenyans cross their borders via simplified procedure.”

Nigeria:

In a statement by Nigeria’s embassy in Budapest on Sunday, it stated that a Ukrainian resident permit would temporarily allow Nigerians into Hungary to temporarily reside there, or until they could safely be transported to Nigeria. “Arrangements are underway for the transportation of Nigerian nationals, to enable them [to] stabilize.”

Currently, many Ukrainians are also stranded abroad, including 900 in the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar in Tanzania. Zanzibar’s President Hussein Mwinyi said: “The truth is that we consider it important to provide support to these people whose compatriots are fleeing Ukraine. You cannot tell someone to go back to a country where others are fleeing. We have to find ways to help them.”

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