'No one has come to help us': African students trapped in occupied Kherson, Ukraine
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Thousands of African and Indian students trapped in Ukraine have been able to flee along humanitarian corridors established by Ukraine or Russia. But a group of students are still trapped in Kherson, a town in southern Ukraine under the control of the Russian Army. Twenty-eight-year-old Camille, originally from Cameroon, says that he and his classmates are worried that they still haven’t gotten any information about a possible evacuation.
Thousands of African students have been evacuated from Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24.
Students living in western regions, like Lviv, were evacuated at the very start of the war. Those in eastern areas, especially Sumy and Kharkiv, were trapped for several days before being finally repatriated on March 8, after humanitarian corridors were opened.
But students are still trapped in Kherson, a town in southern Ukraine that sits on the Azov Sea, near Crimea. Russian tanks moved into town on March 2, turning the lives of the city’s 280,000 residents upside down. Since then, it has become impossible to enter or exit Kherson. On March 15, Russia announced that it had taken control of the entire region of Kherson.
Twenty-eight-year-old Camille has been living in Kherson for the past year, studying to be an engineer. He spoke to us from an apartment where he has hunkered down with about ten other African students:
Nothing changes. Days pass and nothing changes. We are constantly bombed, we can’t sleep. The journeys to and from the basement, where we take shelter, are exhausting. It’s cold. When we hear the sirens now, some of the people in our group don’t even want to move. It’s really hard. But no one is helping us.
Russian soldiers are circulating all over town in their vehicles.
We only go out very rarely so it is hard to say more about the situation outside. We basically only go out to get food. But the shops are closed. We buy food from street sellers.
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'Everyone is saying on social media that the Africans have been evacuated but we are still here'
On March 7, Camille and his friends made a plea for help on BBC Africa. “We want a method of transport in order to get out. That’s what we are asking for (...) We leave tomorrow!” one of his friends said.
Because no one was coming to evacuate us, we left on foot to reach a place with better train service and, eventually, the border. But after we walked for nine kilometres, some Russian soldiers told us that it was too dangerous to continue. It was -10 degrees Celsius and that we would freeze. They told us that we needed to wait to be evacuated through a humanitarian corridor. But no one has come to help us.
Camille said that he and his friends feel abandoned. Especially as thousands of other African students have been evacuated over the past few days, especially from the town of Sumy.
Everyone says on social media that the Africans have been evacuated but we are still here. That has caused us even more stress.
Our embassies have given us no concrete information. They just say “protect yourselves” and “stay inside.”
Camille says that two organizations, BW4BL and Global Black Coalition have been helping the stranded students by delivering food. These organisations, which were started after the invasion, are also working on putting the students trapped in Kherson in contact with NGOs that might be able to help them leave the region.
These two organisations also helped pay for the evacuation of some African students trapped in the city of Sumy on March 8.
The organization BW4BL delivered food to students trapped in Kherson with money they had received in donations.
The food helps a lot. But our priority is to be evacuated,” Camille says.
Global Black Coalition reported that around 40 African students are still stuck in Kherson, a group that includes Ghanaians, Cameroonians and Nigerians. This group has an Instagram account where they post information and videos provided by the students trapped in Kherson.
They told us that before us, a few other groups had used their video calling for aid without their consent, promising to get them out of Kherson and send them money. Money that they never received. In the meantime, these groups got thousands of dollars by making the public think they were helping.