From Nigeria to Ghana and Iraq to India, tens of thousands of students studying abroad in Ukraine are desperately calling for support from their governments as Russia’s invasion escalates.
Arindam Bagchi, India’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a tweet: “With profound sorrow we confirm that an Indian student lost his life in shelling in Kharkiv this morning. The Ministry is in touch with his family.”
Bagchi added that the Indian foreign secretary is calling on the ambassadors of Russia and Ukraine to help ensure “urgent safe passage for Indian nationals” stuck in Kharkiv and other conflict areas in Ukraine.
Algeria’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that a citizen was killed in the fighting in Kharkiv over the weekend and said Algeria would work to repatriate his body.
His family told the al-Araby TV channel and news site that Mohammed Talbi, who is in his 20s, had been studying engineering in Ukraine and had just graduated a few months ago. They described him as someone who was “ambitious” and “loved life.” His father said that during the fighting, he had been hiding in a shelter with other international students.
“I say to this crazy world, we want to live in peace in all parts of the world,” his father said. “Enough of this killing for the sake of killing.”
Other students allege that they have been abandoned by their home countries and that they have not been offered help, with relatives of those stranded in Ukraine heading to local embassies to demand support.
An estimated 10,000 students from across the Arab world are enrolled at Ukrainian universities, Agence France-Presse reported, and Africans reportedly make up 20 percent of international students there. Many are attracted to Ukraine for its affordable education, while others choose Europe as a haven from violence and other troubles at home.
“We left Iraq to escape war … but it’s the same thing in Ukraine” now, Ali Mohammed, an Iraqi student, told AFP in a telephone interview.
“We are demanding to go home. We are waiting to be rescued,” he said, adding that he had been unable to reach the Iraqi Embassy in Kyiv.
“We are citizens of Nigeria, and we need help,” 19-year-old student Sarah Ajifa Idachaba told Germany’s DW news outlet. “Please don’t neglect us. Don’t leave us alone,” she said.
The official website for international students studying in Ukraine could not be accessed by Post reporters as of Monday morning. An error message said the site was “unreachable.”
Temi Rosabel Tseye-Okotie, a Nigerian studying medicine in Ukraine, told DW she was scared and that little guidance had been provided. “The information we are getting from Nigeria is basically that we are on our own,” she said.
Ghanaian engineering student Percy Ohene-Yeboah told Reuters in an interview Thursday that it was probably “a bit too late for evacuation” and that he would remain hunkered down in an underground bunker.
“In a situation like this, you’re on your own. You’ve got to find the best way to find refuge for yourself,” he said.
Two British women in the United Kingdom are working to raise funds to support African and Caribbean students who are stranded in Ukraine after reports emerged on social media of racist incidents at the country’s borders.
Stranded Indian students have issued desperate appeals on social media for help in being evacuated, as the government steps up efforts to bring them back via neighboring countries such as Romania and Hungary.
“Please help us get out immediately,” one student says in a video shared widely on Twitter. “There is a lot of panic.”
Dozens of students, often on foot, have walked to the borders in snow without much food and water. So far, at least six evacuation flights have brought back hundreds of students.
But for those stranded in the eastern part of the country where fighting has intensified, there is no way out. Sheikh Abrar, a 22-year-old medical student from Kashmir, is in the city of Sumy in eastern Ukraine, about 32 miles from the Russian border, and said that the past few days have felt like a nightmare.
Each time the emergency alarms go off, Abrar and his friends rush to the bunkers for safety. The sounds of gunfire and sometimes loud booms increase daily.
“We’re stuck here with no means of escape,” Abrar said. “It is terrifying.”
No trains were available when some fellow students tried to leave the city. Food and cash supplies are running dangerously low. Abrar said they are eating less to preserve supplies.
He has not been able to make contact with Indian Embassy officials. “We don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
On Tuesday, the Indian Embassy in Ukraine advised all of its citizens, including students, to “leave Kyiv urgently” by train or any other means.
Jini Patel, 20, an Indian student at Uzhhorod University, in Ukraine’s far west, has been stuck in Kyiv since Feb. 24 and took shelter at the embassy along with hundreds of other students. On Monday, Patel said, the embassy announced that they should try to leave Kyiv immediately without providing any help.
The walk from the embassy to the train station was risky, as armed fighters roamed the streets and an air raid siren went off. After riding in two packed trains, where there was barely room to stand, Patel reached Uzhhorod on Tuesday and will attempt to get to the Hungarian border.
“Thank God we are safe now,” Patel said. “But I request [the authorities] to evacuate the students from unsafe areas immediately.”
Those in the western part of Ukraine have had better luck. Avinash Chaturvedi, 19, studying in the city of Uzhhorod, not far from the Hungarian border, managed to cross along with dozens of other students in a bus.
“We would have run out of food if we had stayed any longer,” Chaturvedi said. “We were in panic.”
Embassy officials, Chaturvedi said, told him that they were in a safer zone in the west and that their efforts were focused on helping those in other areas, such as Kyiv.
About 18,000 Indian students are enrolled in Ukrainian universities, primarily studying medicine, according to the Indian Embassy in Kyiv. Abrar and Chaturvedi chose to study in Ukraine because places for medical students in government colleges in India are few and hard to secure. Private medical universities are prohibitively expensive, making more affordable destinations such as Ukraine attractive.
“I’m really worried about my education,” Chaturvedi said. “But for now, I just want to get home.”
Ellen Francis in London contributed to this report.