‘We’re traumatised’: Black and Asian students stranded in Sumy with no green corridor

Young Black and Asian people stranded in Sumy, a town nearby Ukraine’s northeast border, are risking their lives attempting to flee to safety against official advice.

At least 1,700 students have been unable to leave the besieged area due to the blockade of the access routes while roads and bridges have been destroyed.

This comes as Russian task force said a ceasefire would start Monday morning, the 12th day of the war, enabling humanitarian corridors to be opened up for civilians to escape from Ukraine but only to Russia and its close ally Belarus – a “cynical” move that has been rejected by the Ukrainian Government.

Both sides have not agreed to a plan that will enable safe passage out of the area rendering the situation unsafe, while Sumy has been left without water and electricity. Public transport has stopped running as fighting in the street continues.

Dominik Stillhart, Director of operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross, told the BBC on Monday morning that it’s important to get both parties to agree on precise details for humanitarian corridors out of the country.

Many of those stuck in the area are from Nigeria, while others are from South Africa, Ghana, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ireland, India and Turkey.

“People are tired of waiting for help that hasn’t come,” one scared student told The Independent. “We just want to go home.”

Another person, who attends Sumy University (SumDu), said: “We are tired and exhausted, running up and down from our hostel rooms to the bomb shelters every three to four hours because we get alerts of air raids or street fights.

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“We are mentally exhausted thinking the day that we go out to buy food, or at least stand in line to buy food, Russians may drop a bomb or a missile, and we will not be able to get back to our hostels for us to find a way out to go home.

“We cannot steady ourselves. We are constantly fidgeting, looking over our shoulders, looking at the sky whenever we’re outside hoping that nothing’s coming down on us. So many of us have been crying in our rooms, we’re sad, traumatized and angry; any little sound makes us jump.”

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is “doubling down” on the use of indiscriminate attacks on Ukraine’s towns and cities, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said. Johnson said these “unrestrained” acts of aggression were resulting in “huge waves” of refugees being forced out of their homes.

Some Black and Asian foreign nationals have experienced racism while trying to flee Ukraine at borders, as first reported by The Independent last week.

Many of the students have been seeking shelter across five hostel buildings since the invasion started, heeding advice from their university to stay behind.

Last week, a group of Indian students also from Sumy University forewarned of an attempt to escape to safety after waiting in vain for assistance from its Government.

“We are afraid, we have awaited a lot and we cannot wait anymore,” they said in a video. “We are risking our lives; we are moving towards the border. If anything happens to us, all the responsibility will be for the government and Indian Embassy.”

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(Getty Images)

African students in Sumy staged a protest on Saturday pleading for safe passage from the town, chanting “let us go home,” “we do not to be part of your war” and “I don’t want to be used as bait”.

Black Women for Black Lives, an organization set-up by Korrine Sky, Patricia Daley and Tokunbo Koiki to assist Black people affected by the war in Ukraine, warned of the precarious situation at hand.

“It’s still very dangerous to try and leave Sumy. #BW4BL does not advise anyone to try and leave the city right now. Students stuck there need to protect themselves by staying put, but the situation there gets worse by the day,” a tweet from the collective read.

“We’re all here stuck,” one student said. “No Government has done anything for us, we’re all stuck. No one’s come in to do anything, no one’s created a humanitarian corridor. There’s people who have spent their last trying to get out of this city only for them to be sent back by Ukrainian and Russian soldiers”.

The Ukrainian deputy prime minister has said Russia is striking civilian targets in Ukraine, including hospitals, nurseries, and schools.

Prior to this outbreak of war, thousands of international students from various parts of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean flocked to Ukraine to study where tuition fees and cost of living is typically a lot cheaper.

When Russian forces invaded the country, some students initially opted to stay out of fear that they would have to retake classes and pay further tuition and accommodation fees if they left.

However, some have described feelings of disappointment over being advised to remain in student accommodation rooms by their universities who reassured them that this would be best until further notice. Now they can’t move for fear of their lives as fighting intensifies.

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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