Kherson: International students stranded and “forgotten” as Russia invades city

Campaigners fear that Black people left behind in Ukraine have been ignored by Governments and organisations that can render much-needed assistance.

Nadine White
Race Correspondent
Friday 18 March 2022 17:18 GMT
<p>African students who used to study in Ukraine are seen in temporary accomodation in February. </p>

African students who used to study in Ukraine are seen in temporary accomodation in February.

Dozens of African and Middle Eastern citizens remain stranded in Kherson as Russian army forces took control of the city, in the south of Ukraine, nearly two weeks ago.

Among them are families, graduates and students with many located at or near university premises of Kherson State University and Kherson State Maritime Academy.

The estimated number of Black people stuck in the city is up to 150 and predominantly nationals of Ukraine, Cameroon, Nigeria and Gabon, according to research by Korrine Sky, and Francklin Momo Nanfack who are both international students of universities in the eastern European country.

Students from Syria, Palestine, Algeria and Egypt are also stranded in Kherson, data has shown.

Speaking to The Independent, student doctor Ms Sky said those left behind urgently need a guaranteed humanitarian corridor and a safe passage to ensure they make it out of Ukraine safely.

“The situation in Kherson is very serious, students have gotten to a point now where they feel suicidal,” she said. “Every night they are hearing bombs and shellings while food and medication is low. They’ve completely lost hope and are struggling to see a way out.

“We believe the only way to get people out is to demand that Russia and Ukraine create a humanitarian corridor and ensure a safe passage for them to exit. This safe passage must be guaranteed. “

Ms Sky has launched Black Women 4 Black Lives, a campaigning and support group that’s currently working towards helping Black people affected by the Ukraine crisis, along with Tokunbo Koiki and Patricia Daley. Their efforts include fundraising to arrange help for those trapped in Kherson.

As it stands, stock in the remainder of open shops on Kherson are dwindling and prices for goods are soaring. Some shops have reported that supplies are not getting through amid concerns about wider food shortages - and there had been no indications from the Russian forces of when supplies might be allowed into the city again.

Meanwhile, many students are not permitted by Russian forces to leave the university premises and go outside to get food. This means that some people do not have access to food, altogether, as NGOs and charities are not permitted to deliver supplies to their location within the city.

Russian army troops descended towards the city from its first day of invasion on 24 February, keen to conquer it. After a week of conflict, Ihor Kolykheav, the mayor of Kherson, said occupying troops had reached the centre of the city, taking control of the main administrative building and imposing a curfew on residents.

Following invasion, shortages of medicine and food in Kherson have “left vulnerable people waiting to die”, the Press Association has reported.

It is estimated that 290,000 residents are currently trapped in Kherson and there have been reports describing dead bodies, of fallen Ukrainian and Russian soldiers, being seen in plain sight on the streets. The mayor told The New York Times that Russian attacks have left many of the city’s slain residents unrecognisable, forcing volunteers to bury them in mass graves.

Many residents opted to stay in their home city, in a show of resistance, to ward off Russian attacks; many have staged protests over the past few days.

Stlll - desperation is rife; some citizens have tried to buy large amounts of food that they sell to people in need and others have begun looting. Conditions are cold and sometimes below freezing at night, the average person is fast running out of resources and hope.

This comes after Russian forces attacked Kherson’s telecom towers earlier this month, raining strikes on four radio and TV towers, isolating it from the rest of the world and cutting off its capacity to share information. At least 32 TV channels and several dozen radio stations were affected.

The Ministry of Defence also said reports suggest Russia is planning to stage a referendum in the captured region of Kherson to legitimise it as a breakaway republic.

Amid this destruction are foreign students who to just want escape this hellish reality and “go home”

“We are stuck in Kherson (...) cannot even be outside. There’s no way out,” Christoph, a Cameroonian student said during a video plea posted on social media.

“Many of our friends are suffering from trauma. We have been calling and doing everything that’s possible with the embassies and everybody and all people keep telling us to wait. We are waiting; we don’t have food, drinking water, we are scared and living in a basement.

“We are asking people to ask the Ukrainian Government, Russian Government, our embassies and Goverment to please manage a way for us to leave this place. This is not our war. (...) What are we doing here? Allow us to go. We want a means of transport to leave.”

Three nationals of Indian, an ally of Russia, previously stuck in Kherson were evacuated via Simferopol and Moscow earlier this week, the Indian Embassy in Russia tweeted on Tuesday.

A petition calling for the immediate rescue of Black people stranded in Kherson has amassed over 46,000 signatures amid a consensus that international students in the city have been “forgotten” by Governments and organisations that can render assistance.

“The students fear for their lives and being seen to be speaking publicly about their issue would be a security risk,” the page, launched by Black Women 4 Black Lives, reads.

“We, the undersigned, call on the international community, especially the United Nations and Red Cross, to urgently rescue the 100+ Black people, International students and all others currently stranded in occupied Kherson, Ukraine.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been approached for comment.

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