A 19-year-old Zimbabwean student who escaped the war in Ukraine says she “still wants to run” when she hears a siren.
Blessing Mushipe is a medical student at Karazin National University in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city close to the Russian border.
She was forced to flee Ukraine with her colleagues when Russia invaded its neighbour by land, sea and air on 24 February.
Speaking to The Sunday Mail in a telephone interview from the Polish capital of Warsaw on Friday, Mushipe narrated how they escaped from Ukraine and also revealed the hostility black people faced from Ukrainian soldiers. She said:
I still want to run whenever I hear a siren. When we were still in Ukraine, a siren meant we had to rush to the basement for safety.
When news of the war started filtering in, I left Kharkiv where our university is.
There was nothing happening there at the time, but we left hastily, there was no time to pack and I left a lot behind.
By the time we left, there had not been bombings where we were but we would hear distant sound blasts on occasions
Mushipe travelled to Lviv, a city in the western part of Ukraine, to pick a friend who would be her companion on the journey to the Medyka border with Poland. She said:
Soldiers would not allow black people on trains. We wanted to board a train to the border and on three occasions we were told that black people were not allowed.
Soldiers were saying only women and children can pass. However, if you were a black woman, they would ask you to disembark.
We were saved by the bus driver at one checkpoint when he lied that we had agreed to donate blood to the Ukrainian soldiers. That is how we were granted passage.
The bus driver left us at the first checkpoint towards the border and we had to finish the rest of the journey on foot.
Mushipe said they travelled on foot for the rest of the journey to the Polish border, a distance of 20 kilometres. She said:
We waited in the queue from 4 pm to around midnight. The queues were moving, but soldiers would come and pluck you out and send you to the back shouting the words ‘black’ ‘black’ in their language.
We were only allowed to cross at midnight, but our black counterparts who were male were denied entry.
After crossing the border into Poland, Mushipe and her female colleagues received some provisions from the Zimbabwean Government and a few Poland based well-wishers. Added Mushipe:
We have been well taken care of here in Poland… we got here and there was a boarding house which was booked.
We also have food and all the basic supplies we may need, which were organised by the Embassy.
Our tickets are being processed, and we will be travelling back home soon.
Russian tanks and armoured columns crossed the border into Ukraine on 24 February in what President Vladimir Putin called a special military operation.
Russia’s unprovoked attack on a sovereign country has created a humanitarian crisis, with more than 1.5 million refugees flooding Ukraine’s neighbours, with over 50 per cent moving to Poland.