At least a million refugees have fled Ukraine over the past week, seeking safety in neighboring European countries from Russia’s advancing military forces. Amid the chaos and deadly attacks on major cities that the U.N. estimates have so far killed approximately 3,300 civilians, some African students have reported encountering ugly instances of racism from some civilians and members of the Ukrainian military as they try to escape the country.
Korrine Sky, a 26-year-old second-year medical student from Leicester, England, documented on Twitter what she endured, using the trending hashtag #africansinukraine.
On Feb. 25, after hearing the air-raid sirens sound in Dnipro, a city in eastern Ukraine, Sky, a Zimbabwean-born British citizen, and her husband, a neurosurgery student she met in Ukraine, hastily gathered documents and some of their belongings and set off for the Romanian border. The couple faced long lines for gas and to get money out of an ATM before they joined an automotive queue at the border. Still in Ukraine, they slept in the car for two days.
“On our way to the border, a man held a gun up at me and told us that if we don’t leave in five minutes, he would shoot us,” Sky told a pool of reporters that included Yahoo News. “Other Black women have been reported being shoved, being pushed, women with children. It’s horrific. The treatment has been awful.”
The last 24 hours of her journey in the queue, Sky said, were the worst because that’s when she started facing “racism and segregation.” She said that while she and her husband were making their way to the front of the line, Ukrainian civilians began aggressively circling their car, with one man allegedly lunging at her.
Fearful of the mob, Sky’s husband pulled the car off the road to seek assistance from the Ukrainian military, but was met by another civilian who attempted to divert them onto a pedestrian border crossing.
“In that pedestrian queue, there were only people of color,” Sky said. “There were Asians, Arab people, Black people. There were no Ukrainian people.”
At another crossing point, she said, Ukrainian people were just walking through the border.
“If you look on the other side, there was a fence, there were Ukrainian people just walking through, but we were told to queue. We had to queue, and there was not a single Ukrainian person in that queue,” Sky said. “Students who come from different countries to get an education for a better life for our families and friends, we’re the least of their worries.”
Another African student, Alexander Somto Orah of Nigeria, tweeted that when he finally reached the border with some companions, Ukrainian police and members of the army initially refused to let them cross while allowing white Ukrainians through the entry point without incident.