Arab students flee Ukraine: ‘There’s Poland, now walk’

Arab students Ukraine

Arab students flee Ukraine: ‘There’s Poland, now walk’

When Amani al-Attar left Dnipro in southeast Ukraine on the second day of the Russian invasion, she thought it would be a matter of hours before she crossed into the safety of neighbouring Poland.

Instead, the 25-year-old Moroccan student described a harrowing, days-long journey that was riddled with discrimination from Ukrainian soldiers, military volunteers, and ordinary citizens along the way.

Read African students experience racial profiling at Ukrainian border

More than a million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the war on February 24, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency. Thousands of Arab nationals, mostly students based in Ukraine, have sought refuge in Poland as their governments scramble to evacuate them.

Al-Attar and a group of nine friends – all Arab students at the University of Dnipro – each paid $150 to a bus driver who promised to take them to the Polish border.

The nine-hour trip to Horodok, a small city just outside of Lviv in the west of Ukraine, was largely uneventful apart from frequent stops at army checkpoints.

But about 40km (18 miles) from Poland, everything changed.

Ukrainian army soldiers stopped their bus of 50-something foreign passengers and forced them to alight.

“They just pointed in a direction and said: ‘That’s where Poland is. Now walk,” recounted al-Attar, adding the soldiers said foreigners would not be permitted to continue further in a vehicle.

“Then they packed our bus with Ukrainians, and it carried on to the border,” said the dental student.

Al-Attar and her friends were baffled but they had no choice other than to continue on foot.

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Along the way, an endless stream of vehicles filled with Ukrainians queued on the road to Poland. Cars were moving at a snail’s-pace and so people opened their homes to fellow Ukrainians, Meryem Saber, also part of the group, told Al Jazeera by phone from Warsaw.

“They offered them [Ukrainians] food, water, and a place to rest,” said the 21-year-old Moroccan pharmacy student. “But when they saw us, they’d just turn their faces.”

‘There’s Poland, now walk’: Arab students’ ordeal out of Ukraine  Al Jazeera English


Dean Nestor

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