1000’s of Africans, principally college students, based mostly in Ukraine have been caught up within the conflict that erupted when Russia despatched its troops throughout the border final week.
To this point, 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 pupil 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 group with many college students. I converse the language and determined to develop into a pupil liaison officer.
“Earlier than the conflict, every little thing 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 giant noise after which panic set in. There’s a army set up within the metropolis, folks say it’s an arms depot for the army. We heard it was focused.
“I by no means imagined there could be conflict right here; politicians speak and say issues however most instances they don’t act on it.
“After that vast blast, I knew I needed to go away to avoid wasting my life.
“There are numerous Somali college students, some from Somalia and different Somalis from Western international locations like the USA, UK, Sweden and Finland. Most examine medication. These with Western passports had been evacuated by their embassies earlier than the conflict 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 transferring. 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 lots of of hundreds of Ukrainians additionally attempting to depart to flee the conflict.
“We managed to rent small buses to take us to the Polish border. They charged us greater than the traditional worth.
“In whole, there have been 88 of us. We left on Friday. We put ladies and those that can’t converse the language on the primary bus for security causes, as a result of if something went unsuitable, no less than these of us who might converse Ukrainian might survive longer. Then the remainder of us squeezed into the opposite two buses and made our strategy 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 conflict. ATMs additionally had a restrict on the money you may take out.
“The site visitors to the border was insufferable. A drive that will usually take six hours took us nearly two days. There have been checkpoints on the highway manned normally by two officers. We didn’t see any army convoys.
“After we had been 50km (31 miles) away from the border, the site visitors got here to a halt. Automobiles weren’t transferring in any respect. We bought off and made our manner by foot. I noticed many aged folks and youngsters struggling. In all places you appeared, there have been folks and automobiles so far as the attention might see.
“After we arrived on the border, the state of affairs was even worse. Guards had been overwhelmed they usually had been shouting continuously. There was lots of pushing and screaming. Individuals had been very pressured. There was no meals. It was freezing chilly and youngsters had been crying.
“Guards let by way of 600 folks at a time. Ukrainians first, after all. They let in Ukrainian ladies and youngsters 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 right this 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 hearth out of.
“From the border, the Polish authorities took us by bus and introduced us right here [Przemysl reception centre]. It’s heat. There’s meals, there are bathrooms and we will 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 folks there say, ‘Indispensable in the course of the dry season is grass.’ For certain, it’s positively safer again residence than Ukraine right this moment.”
Observe Hamza Mohamed on Twitter: @Hamza_Africa