1000’s of Africans, principally college students, primarily based in Ukraine have been caught up within the struggle that erupted when Russia despatched its troops throughout the border final week.
So far, the battle has pressured greater than 670,000 folks to flee overseas, in response to the United Nations’ refugee company, whereas an estimated a million others have been displaced inside Ukraine.
Most of the African nationals have sought refuge in Poland as their governments scramble to evacuate them.
Al Jazeera on Tuesday spoke to Mustafa Mohamed, a 31-year-old Somali youth chief and scholar liaison officer after he managed to succeed in a reception centre within the Polish metropolis of Przemysl, the closest to the primary border crossing between Poland and Ukraine.
Beneath is Mustafa’s story, in his personal phrases. His account has barely been edited.
“I’ve lived in Ukraine for nearly 10 years – I went there to review and have a level in financial administration. After I completed my research, I made a decision to remain and discover work. There’s a rising African neighborhood with many college students. I converse the language and determined to turn out to be a scholar liaison officer.
“Earlier than the struggle, the whole lot was regular and calm – folks had smiles on their faces. However all that modified final Thursday. Sirens went off in my metropolis, Vinnytsia [west-central Ukraine]. Then the sirens bought extra frequent, like each hour. We heard a really massive noise after which panic set in. There’s a navy set up within the metropolis, folks say it’s an arms depot for the navy. We heard it was focused.
“I by no means imagined there can be struggle right here; politicians discuss and say issues however most occasions they don’t act on it.
“After that vast blast, I knew I needed to depart to avoid wasting my life.
“There are numerous Somali college students, some from Somalia and different Somalis from Western international locations like the US, UK, Sweden and Finland. Most research medication. These with Western passports had been evacuated by their embassies earlier than the struggle began. These of us with Somali passports stayed as a result of we had nowhere to go. On Thursday, we bought collectively and determined to depart as a result of it was not protected.
“There have been no trains and there have been many individuals attempting to get on buses, on something that was shifting. Officers prioritised Ukrainians. All different nationalities bought on public transport solely after Ukrainians. We, Somalis, determined we weren’t going to attend as a result of there are tons of of 1000’s of Ukrainians additionally attempting to depart to flee the struggle.
“We managed to rent small buses to take us to the Polish border. They charged us greater than the conventional worth.
“In whole, there have been 88 of us. We left on Friday. We put girls and those that can’t converse the language on the primary bus for security causes, as a result of if something went improper, a minimum of these of us who may converse Ukrainian may survive longer. Then the remainder of us squeezed into the opposite two buses and made our method to the border.
“The retailers had been empty of meals as a result of everybody had rushed to get provides. It was like the start of the coronavirus pandemic, however this time the cabinets had been empty not due to a virus however due to struggle. ATMs additionally had a restrict on the money you possibly can take out.
“The visitors to the border was insufferable. A drive that might usually take six hours took us nearly two days. There have been checkpoints on the street manned normally by two officers. We didn’t see any navy convoys.
“Once we had been 50km (31 miles) away from the border, the visitors got here to a halt. Autos weren’t shifting in any respect. We bought off and made our means by foot. I noticed many aged folks and kids struggling. In every single place you appeared, there have been folks and automobiles so far as the attention may see.
“Once we arrived on the border, the state of affairs was even worse. Guards had been overwhelmed they usually had been shouting consistently. There was loads of pushing and screaming. Individuals had been very careworn. There was no meals. It was freezing chilly and kids had been crying.
“Guards let by way of 600 folks at a time. Ukrainians first, in fact. They let in Ukrainian girls and kids first, then Ukrainian males. Their folks had been their precedence, which I can perceive. The remainder of us waited for our flip. This upset many non-Ukrainians who had been attempting to cross the border.
“I crossed the border at the moment [March 1]. We had nothing to eat whereas we had been ready. We survived on chocolate bars that we purchased from the retailers earlier than we left. At night time, it bought even colder. Final night time, it was so chilly we burned a few of our garments and luggage to remain heat. We had nothing else to make a fireplace out of.
“From the border, the Polish authorities took us by bus and introduced us right here [Przemysl reception centre]. It’s heat. There may be meals, there are bathrooms and we are able to take showers.
“For the primary time since Friday, I’ll sleep in a mattress, a heat mattress. I haven’t determined what I’ll do subsequent. I simply arrived. I’m from Hargeisa [northern Somalia] and other people there say, ‘Indispensable throughout the dry season is grass.’ For certain, it’s positively safer again house than Ukraine at the moment.”
Comply with Hamza Mohamed on Twitter: @Hamza_Africa