In Ukraine, the despair of foreign students prevented from leaving the country

In front of Lviv station, Jean-Jacques Kabeya is angry: like thousands of other African, Asian or Middle Eastern students, this Congolese hoped to flee Ukraine at war, but encountered brutal refusals from the guards. Ukrainian borders.

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Sunday evening, Jean-Jacques Kabeya had arrived at the Shegyni border post, hoping to cross into Poland two days after fleeing the bombardments hitting Kharkiv (east), wandering in the biting cold, without help or sleep.

But on the spot, says this 30-year-old pharmacy student, the soldiers and security agents pushed him back: “They told me: “You are going to stay here, you are fleeing the war, stay here, you are going to fight with us. , you are not leaving, and especially you blacks”.

After 36 hours of fruitless waiting, Jean-Jacques returned at dawn on Tuesday to Lviv, the main city in western Ukraine, accompanied by some “little brothers” from the Democratic Republic of Congo whom he took under his wing. . “It’s catastrophic!” enrages the student, annoyed.

Similar testimonies have multiplied in recent days, especially among the tens of thousands of young people who have come to Ukraine for their studies, reputed to be of high quality and more accessible than in Western Europe.

The matter has been escalated to African governments. On Monday, Nigeria and then the African Union (AU) condemned “unacceptable different treatment” and “racism”. Several African countries have however announced that a few dozen of their nationals have been able to leave Ukraine.


On Tuesday morning, there were still several hundred of them, wrapped in blankets, anoraks and hats, shivering standing in single file, placed by border guards on the right sidewalk of the avenue leading to the Shegyni border post.


Pakistanis, Indians, Algerians, Congolese, Cameroonians, Ghanaians, Algerians for some had just spent a fourth night in temperatures of -5 to -10°C. And waited calmly, under an icy sun, between resignation and dejection.

On the left sidewalk, reserved for Ukrainians, the traffic is more fluid: dozens of women and children – men aged 18 to 60 being mobilized and unable to leave the country – wait for a while, with their small backpacks and colorful suitcases.

“We all have our papers”, but “because we are foreigners, we are treated like dogs. We slept there, on this sidewalk (…), but the Ukrainians don’t care, ”plagues Mesum Ahmed, 23, a Pakistani computer science student, denim jacket, gray cap and travel pillow around his neck.

“You can see the separation between them and us. We are black, and that’s it”, slips, bitter, a young Nigerian.

The only comfort, the population and local associations offer drinks to warm up and a few sandwiches.

“We are here, we are waiting and we are not told anything”, regrets Richard Adjen Kusi, a robust Ghanaian student who left Cherkassy (center) three days earlier “when (he) heard (Russian President Vladimir) Putin talking about nuclear weapons”.

But there, “everything is blocked, it does not advance a centimeter” and “I am afraid”.

Thirty Cameroonian students who fled Kirovograd (center) say they have in recent days “discovered racism in Ukraine”, stressing that everything was happening well before the war.

“In stations, on trains, we were systematically excluded from seats,” said an economics student, Bryan Famini, 22.

“Some Ukrainians even laughed at us from their cars when they saw us walking. I was disappointed by this country, I will not come back any more”, loose Ghislain Weledji, 22, who now wants to “join (his) parents in France”.

Questioned by AFP, the Ukrainian border guard service denies “any difficulty”, ensuring that “no one has been prevented from leaving Ukraine”, and says that it has not received any complaint.

For their part, the Polish authorities affirm that anyone fleeing Ukraine is welcomed, whatever their nationality, in this war which has thrown more than a million people on the roads.

At Lviv station, 70 km from the border, thousands of Ukrainians and foreigners still hoped to board one of the rare trains leaving for Poland on Tuesday.

“Yesterday we were trying to get on the train, but they were pushing the Ukrainians first,” says Amanjyot, a 23-year-old medical student from India.

Warming herself at a brazier in front of the elegant Art Nouveau station building, she appreciates the help provided by the Ukrainian Red Cross and a few charities.

“They help so much! There is a lot of food (…), they take care of everyone, without discrimination”, she underlines.

Jean-Jacques Kabeya, the Congolese student, now hopes to join Oujgorod, close to Hungary and Slovakia. Even there, the mission is delicate: there is no more train and “we are asked 100 dollars” by bus, he regrets.

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