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

Kherson: International students stranded and “forgotten” as Russia invades city
Campaigners fear that international students stranded in the city have been “forgotten” by Governments and organisations which can render assistance.

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

Those people include a mixture of families, graduates and students with many located at or near university premises of Kherson State University and Kherson State Maritime Academy.

The estimate number of Black people stuck in the city is up to 150 and predominantly nations of Ukraine, Cameroon, Nigeria and Gabon, according to research by Korrine Sky, and Francklin Momo Nanfack, both international students who were studying at 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, trainee 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, 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 reportedly not getting through amid concerns about wider food shortages – and there had been no indications from the Russians when supplies might be allowed into the city.

Meanwhile, many students 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.

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, taken control of the main administrative building and imposed 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 of dead bodies, of fallen Ukrainian and Russian soldiers, can be 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; there was a protest earlier this week.

Desperation is rife, however; 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 have been 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.