Ukraine-Russia war news, photos and videos: live updates
Africans who had lived in Ukraine said they were stuck for days at border crossings into neighboring European Union countries, huddled in the cold with no food or shelter, held up by Ukrainian authorities who pushed them to the ends of long lines and even beat them while letting the Ukrainians through.
At least 660,000 people have fled Ukraine in the five days since the Russian invasion began, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said. Most are Ukrainians, but some are students or migrant workers from Africa, Asia and other regions who are also desperately fleeing.
Chineye Mbagwu, a 24-year-old doctor from Nigeria who lived in the western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk, said she was stranded for more than two days at the Polish-Ukrainian border crossing in the town of Medyka as guards allowed Ukrainians to cross but are blocking it Foreigner.
“The Ukrainian border guards wouldn’t let us through,” she said in a phone interview, her voice shaking. “They beat people up with sticks” and ripped their jackets off, she added. “They would hit her, hit her and push her to the end of the line. It was awful.”
The African Union and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari have condemned the treatment of Africans who fled Ukraine after reports on social media that border guards were preventing them from leaving the country. Africans have also reported being denied boarding trains bound for the border.
“Reports that Africans are being subjected to unacceptable differential treatment would be appallingly racist” and violate international law, the African Union said.
Deputy Interior Minister of Ukraine Anton Herashenko denied that his country prevents foreigners from leaving the country.
“Everything is simple,” he said. “We are the first to release women and children. Foreign men have to wait for women and children to report. We will release all foreigners unhindered,” he added in a written response to questions. “The same goes for black people.”
Ms Mbagwu, the Nigerian doctor, managed to reach Warsaw but said she only crossed the border by fighting and fighting her way.
“They would say, ‘Only women and children can happen,'” she said. “But they let some Ukrainian men through. And whenever a black lady tried to come by, they said, ‘Our women first,'” Ms Mbagwu added.
“There was no protection from the cold. It snowed. There was no food, water or a place to rest. I literally hallucinated from sleep deprivation,” she said.
She said her 21-year-old brother, a medical student, had been blocked at the border since Friday but made it to Poland after four days of trying.
Not all foreigners reported ill-treatment by Ukrainian authorities at border crossings.
A Pakistani student and an Afghan national who entered Poland from Ukraine on Saturday said the only problem was very long lines. And a group of Vietnamese workers easily entered Moldova on Monday.
Mohammed Saadaoui, a 23-year-old Moroccan pharmacy student who traveled to Warsaw from the Ukrainian city of Odessa, said he had no problems.
“But it took us a long time to find the good border crossing where there aren’t too many people,” he said. “There we were treated in the same way as the Ukrainians.”
The International Organization for Migration estimates that there are more than 470,000 foreign nationals in Ukraine, including a large number of foreign students and migrant workers. At least 6,000 of them have arrived in Moldova and Slovakia alone in the past five days, according to the IOM, and many more have entered Poland.
Many of the foreigners fleeing Ukraine said they had received a warm welcome in neighboring Poland, Moldova, Hungary and Romania. But Mr Buhari, the Nigerian President, said there were reports of Polish officials refusing entry to Nigerians.
Piotr Müller, the spokesman for the Polish Prime Minister, denied this with the words: “Poland admits everyone from Ukraine, regardless of their nationality.”
Piotr Bystrianin, head of the Ocalenie Foundation, a Polish refugee aid organization, said that so far “the problems have been on the Ukrainian side”.
According to Poland’s Interior Ministry, more than 300,000 people have fled Ukraine to Poland since the Russian invasion began. Temporary shelters are being set up across the country, and Poles are helping Ukrainians on a large scale, transporting them across the border, taking them into their homes, feeding and clothing them.
On Monday, Poland’s Ambassador to the United Nations Krzysztof Szczerski said his country welcomes all foreign students studying in Ukraine and invites them to continue their studies in Poland.
In the years leading up to the Russian invasion, Poland had taken a hard line on migrants attempting to enter the country. The army and border guards have pushed back asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa to Belarus. Last week, aid agencies said a 26-year-old man from Yemen froze to death at this border.
Some of the foreigners who arrived in Poland from Ukraine in the past few days were exhausted and frozen, according to local aid organizations. Some were taken straight to hospitals for their injuries.
Ahmed Habboubi, a 22-year-old French-Tunisian medical student, said all foreign nationals, including Africans, Israelis, Canadians and Americans, have been told to go to a gate at the Medyka crossing from Ukraine to Poland, which only has four would process people every few hours, while Ukrainians were allowed to pass freely through another gate.
“The Ukrainian army beat me so badly that I couldn’t walk properly,” he said in a telephone interview. “When I finally managed to enter Poland, the Polish authorities took me straight to the hospital,” he added.
“It was absolute chaos. We were treated like animals. Thousands of people are still stranded there.”
He said Poland welcomed him warmly.
Dennis Nana Appiah Nkansah, a Ghanaian medical student, said he saw the same discrimination at the border crossing from Ukraine to the Romanian city of Siret – one rule for Ukrainians and another for everyone else. Thousands of foreigners, including Zambians, Namibians, Moroccans, Indians and Pakistanis, were ushered to a gate that was mostly closed while another, reserved for Ukrainians, was open and people poured through.
Four or five foreigners were allowed to leave in about three hours while there was a “massive influx” of Ukrainians, he said. “It’s not fair,” he said, but “we understand that they need to take care of their people first.”
Mr Nkansah, 31, said he had organized 74 Ghanaian and Nigerian students to help out and hire a bus to flee together. They reached the border early Saturday morning, he said, but took them 24 hours to cross.
Emmanuel Nwulu, 30, a Nigerian electronics student at Kharkiv National University, said when he tried to board a train in Ukraine headed west toward the border, Ukrainian officials told him: “Black people couldn’t get on the train.” Get on the train.” But Mr. Nwulu and his cousin managed to get on board.
Taha Daraa, a 25-year-old Moroccan fourth-year student of dentistry at Dnipro Medical Institute, started his journey around noon on Saturday and crossed the border into Romania in the early hours of Monday after days without sleep.
“We were treated so badly. We took buses to the Romanian border. It was very scary when we had to walk across the border while hearing gunshots,” he said via WhatsApp. “We just prayed. Our parents also prayed for our safety. It’s the only protection we had,” he added.
“I witnessed a lot of racism.”
He said he was in a group with two other Moroccans and many other Africans and asked a Ukrainian border guard to let them through. The guard started shooting his gun in the air to scare them, so they stepped back.
“I’ve never felt so scared in my life,” said Mr. Daraa. “He asked us to go back. Snow fell on us. As the crowd grew, they gave up and let everyone through.”
He said the Romanians take good care of him and other foreigners, providing them with food and other necessities.
“They gave us everything,” he said.
Abdi Latif Dahir contributed reports from Nairobi, Kenya, Valerie Hopkins from Kyiv, Ukraine, Ben Novak from Zahony and Beregsurany, Hungary, and Aida Alami from Rabat, Morocco.