Many trains and buses have left Ukraine since the start of the war on February 24 to carry the large influx of people fleeing to safety in other countries, leaving everything else behind.
Among those who got off the bus in Poland after a 24-hour trip from Ukraine was Hirut Berhan, an international student from Ethiopia.
Hirut, who left all his belongings in Ukraine and packed only his passport, candy bars and snacks, reminds us all that life can change in the blink of an eye.
In 2019, she left to study in Ukraine, but initially she had to learn the Ukrainian language for a year. After a year, Hirut joined the Ukrainian State University of Chemical Technology to pursue management studies for three years until the war stopped almost everything.
“When things got heated between Russia and Ukraine, the university made our classes virtual. But then it got serious very quickly, and university officials told us to stay in our hostel and that things would get better soon.
After some cities in Ukraine were bombed, the students left the hostel and went to Poland, but not Hirut and her boyfriend. They decided to stay a few more days in the hostel because they heard about the mistreatment of African students at the border with Poland.
But things got worse, so they had no choice but to take the risk and leave Ukraine. The trip to Poland, Hiruit said, was a scary and frightening experience she will never forget.
“At the border, my friend’s brother was waiting for us, he bought us some ‘Shwarama’ food. It was literally cold and we used the train. We were afraid that they wouldn’t take us because we were Africans.
It was reported that at the Ukraine-Poland border, women were given priority and Ukrainian refugees received “preferential treatment” over foreigners.
As she waited in line to get free food, Hirut was told to go to the back of the line after officials saw her passport and that she was from Ethiopia.
“I went back, but I felt so bad” said Hirout.
>> International students leaving Ukraine say they face racism from border officials
However, they traveled to Poland, where officials from the Angolan Embassy in Poland offered their help to Hirut’s boyfriend and brother, who are from Angola. The three of them found a place to spend the night in Poland.
From Poland, Hirut continued her journey alone to Berlin, Germany. There she met a family friend.
“Last year, my boyfriend gave me a promise ring. We were planning to get married after graduation. But because of the war, we had to break up. I told him at see him again in Poland before leaving for Germany. He is currently in Amsterdam,” said Hirout.
Hirut is now going through a depression, has lost about 15 kilograms and has been sick most of the time since the start of the war in Ukraine, which has “turned his life upside down”. One of the sad things the war has caused is that she doesn’t remember most things after the traumatic experience she had to go through.
She gets no support from her university, and they don’t even respond to any of her messages. She left all her school documents in Ukraine.
Hirut is no longer studying at the Ukrainian University of Chemical Technology and without papers, she fears it will be difficult to gain admission to another university.
“I don’t know what I can do now. I only had a year left to graduate, and now I’m lost in life.
For now Hirout is in Berlin, without a residence permit, waiting to find out his next step because the situation is causing fear and distress.
The war has also affected the studies of Ukrainian students abroad, some of whom have family members in Ukraine.
In an interview with Erudera, 19-year-old Oleksandra Tymchyshyna, a Ukrainian student in the United States, said that for days she couldn’t concentrate on anything and fell behind in her studies.
“The war in Ukraine almost cost me my dream, but I wouldn’t be Ukrainian if I didn’t get back on track and finish the quarter strong,” said Tymchyshyna.
The crisis in Ukraine has prompted many universities around the world to offer different types of support to Ukrainian students, staff and anyone whose studies in Ukraine have been interrupted due to the war.
>> List of universities helping Ukrainian students
According to Ukrainian government figures, 76,548 international students from 155 countries are enrolled in Ukrainian universities, the majority of which come from India, Morocco, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Nigeria, China and Turkey.
Official data revealed that, on average, international students spend more than $7,000 a year in Ukraine, contributing $542 million to the country’s economy.
The country has now seen a massive outflow of international students.
According to data from Erudera, there were 80,470 international students in Ukraine in 2019, an increase of 6.4% compared to 2018. Most of these students pursued studies in medicine, medical practice, dentistry , management and pharmacy.
In nearly a decade, enrollment of international students in Ukrainian universities increased by almost 50% between 2011 and 2019.
United Nations figures show that more than 4.3 million people have left Ukraine since the Russian invasion. Most refugees go to the following countries:
To note: At the request of the student, we have replaced her real name in this article with the name Hirut Berhan.