Africans and South Asians studying and working in Ukraine have had added difficulty leaving the country because of discriminatory treatment by local authorities.



Among the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Ukraine are students from Africa, India and Latin America. One student from India was killed in shelling this morning in the northeastern city of Kharkiv. Amid all this desperation and chaos, some students of color say they've been badly treated, and their governments have complained. But the picture is complicated because other students say they've been met with kindness. As NPR's Eleanor Beardsley and Frank Langfitt crossed into Hungary this morning, they spoke to refugees crossing with them.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Clement Akenboro is an economics student from Nigeria. And on Sunday, he tried to pack into a train in the city of Lviv - that's in the far west of Ukraine - and head over the border into Poland. Here's what he told our colleague, Tim Mak.

CLEMENT AKENBORO: The security men - they drug all the Black guys from the train.


AKENBORO: I was already in the train.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Already on the train and thrown off, Akenboro says. He was so embarrassed to be thrown off the train, he felt like crying. He's not the only foreigner of color who's felt mistreated trying to cross borders here. Indian students have told Indian television that border guards beat them. Freedom Chidera, also Nigerian, has spent five years studying medicine in Ukraine. He told me that border guards insulted him and other people of color.

FREEDOM CHIDERA: I'm traumatized. I need to relax. I need to detox my mind. I've been through a lot in Polish border. I mean, that's the worst experience in my life. I called my mother. I was crying. I was really crying to her.

LANGFITT: These students saw Europe as a place of possibility and security. Nigerian Victor Eshiet was studying for his U.S. medical license about 5 a.m. last week. This is about the same time Russian President Vladimir Putin declared war.

VICTOR ESHIET: Then, all of a sudden, my table shook. And we went to the window and - you know when a rocket's trying to move, like, you know, the pressure and everything? I just felt it. I'm, like, no.

LANGFITT: As of last weekend, the line to get into Poland stretched more than 12 miles. After complaints of racism, students of color told each other to avoid the Polish border, so they headed south through the snowcapped Carpathian Mountains.

BEARDSLEY: So I'm at the Ukrainian-Hungarian border, trying to get out with thousands of other people, and many of them are on foot. And many of the ones on foot are foreign students studying in Ukraine. You hear all sorts of languages in this line as we wait to get over the border into Hungary.

LANGFITT: We met Chioma Udo here standing in line about 8 o'clock last night as temperatures dipped into the mid-30s. Like other Nigerians, she does not enjoy visa-free travel to the European Union. EU countries are now waiving that requirement. She'd been trying to get through different border crossings for days.

CHIOMA UDO: This is the third one, and we've been here for, I think, over 30 minutes now. But people have had it worse, so I guess we're OK.

BEARDSLEY: Some 75,000 international students are enrolled at universities across Ukraine, a legacy from the Soviet era when students from developing nations were offered free education. Chioma says she and her friends enjoy living and studying in Ukraine and are worried about whether they will ever be able to return.

UDO: One of my friends, I spoke to him. He said that this is the last time we're seeing him because he's not coming back to this country. And it's really, really heartbreaking, to be honest, because people have built a life here. Like, three years - you meet a lot of people, and this is, like, people's home. People really love this country.

LANGFITT: The painful experiences, however, were not universal. Some students praised the Ukrainians for their kindness during the refugee crisis.

FRANCIS CHUKWURA: My name is Francis Chukwura, and I'm doing my master's here.


CHUKWURA: In economics.

BEARDSLEY: We met Francis just inside Hungary after we'd crossed. He'd been at the rail station in Lviv when Ukrainians were given priority. Francis said that didn't bother him.

CHUKWURA: There's a war in Ukraine. We Africans, we have somewhere to go to. But them - they don't have anywhere to go to. Do you understand the point?

LANGFITT: Yeah, I do. You don't begrudge them that they...

CHUKWURA: No, no, no, no, no.

LANGFITT: ...Let the Ukrainians out because they have nowhere to go.

CHUKWURA: No, no, no, no. We are humans, you know? Sometimes we don't - we have to put ourselves in other people's shoes to understand your situation.

LANGFITT: Francis also said, during his odyssey, the Ukrainian government helped out, putting him and fellow Nigerian students in a hotel.

CHUKWURA: They give us a very nice hospitality, you know? They give us food. They give us jackets. This jacket I'm putting on...

LANGFITT: Who gave you that jacket?

CHUKWURA: They give it to me - the Ukrainian government.

BEARDSLEY: It's a big, puffy winter coat. Francis also says he has growing respect for the Ukrainians as they battle to save their country from the Russian army, particularly President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has so far refused to leave Kyiv.

CHUKWURA: Western governments should try as much as possible to support Ukraine in any way they can 'cause actually feel like Ukraine is actually doing this alone. And it's not fair because I was expecting the U.S. to intervene, but maybe they're not intervening because it might be a full, blown-out war. I understand that, but they should try to support in every way.

LANGFITT: When we last saw Francis, he was waiting for Hungarian immigration to return his passport but confident he'd make it across.

BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley.

LANGFITT: And Frank Langfitt.


LANGFITT: On the Ukraine-Hungary border. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Francis Chukwura's last name as Chokura.