The street below was congested with traffic as Percy Ohene-Yeboah glanced down from his high-rise flat in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, on Thursday morning. People rushed along the walkways, bags trailing after them.
The Ghanaian engineering student hurried to a window on the other side of the building and learned why: Russian jets were flying low above the city, attempting to avoid missiles soaring through the sky, a scenario eerily similar to one of his favorite video games, Call of Duty.
The 24-year-old packed a suitcase and hurried to the nearest underground railway station for refuge as reality set in, one of hundreds of African students left in Ukraine amid a Russian invasion with no idea how to flee.
“In a situation like this, you’re on your own. You’ve got to find the best way to find refuge for yourself,” he told Reuters by phone from the basement of a church on Thursday night, where he ultimately settled.
Thousands of African students study medical, engineering, and military affairs in cities under siege across Ukraine. According to the education ministry, Morocco, Nigeria, and Egypt are among the top ten nations with foreign students in Ukraine, each providing over 16,000 pupils. Thousands of Indian students have also attempted to exit the country.
What was supposed to be a less expensive option to studying in Western Europe or the United States has devolved into a war zone overnight as Russian tanks, aircraft, and ships begin the largest European invasion of another country since World War II.
African nations hundreds of miles distant are straining to assist their students when aircraft are stopped. Reuters met with pupils who stated they had received no assistance from their families.
“It’s now that the reality is really hitting me,” said Ohene-Yeboah. “I think for me it’s a bit too late for evacuation and all those things.”
Ghanaian students in Ukraine are numerous enough to warrant the formation of a local union branch. The union relayed updates about the situation to the government in Accra in the days leading up to the invasion.
“They confirmed that they received things like that, but we never got any real reply to any of our concerns,” said Ohene-Yeboah.
He will stay put for the time being, fearful of travelling the trip west and without flights or money.
Others are already on their way.
On Thursday morning, as Russian bombs began to fall near Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, 400 kilometers (250 miles) west of Kharkiv, a group of Kenyan medical students decided to flee. They’ve spoken with government authorities, but they’ll have to figure out how to get out of Ukraine on their own, according to one of them.
On Friday morning, the five students hurried to Kyiv’s train station in the hopes of catching a train to Lviv, in western Ukraine. They want to cross the border into Poland, where they will be able to return home.
It is not assured that you will be able to board the train.
“It is really, really bad. Everyone is fleeing the city,” said one of the medical students, who asked not to be named.
In the haste, she and her coworkers only carried essential paperwork with them.
“We can’t carry luggage. Luggage will make us lag behind.”