I faced racism and was robbed as an Indian student fleeing Ukraine

It was chaos. 

My friends and I locked ourselves in an apartment in Kyiv, and we were all scared. 

People wanted to leave the city as soon as possible.

The screams, shouting and noise of everyone fighting to escape was so terrifying – I had never experienced anything like this before.

I didn’t know how to seek any help or what to do.

I just kept thinking I might not see my family again.  

At the age of 23, I recently left my two brothers, sister and parents in India to come to the capital of Ukraine.

This was to study at the National University of Physical Education and Sport. 

I arrived at the beginning of February and was so excited and happy to start studying and to find a part time job.  

It was hard going as I didn’t know the language and also how things work in Ukraine but one thing was for sure, I had left behind a country that I knew I could never progress in, where a culture of corruption means bribes often matter more than your skill set. 

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My family sent me to Ukraine in the hope that I would establish myself and be able to help support them – not knowing that a week after my arrival, war would break out.

I remember hearing my flatmate running into my room and screaming ‘we need to get out of here before we die’.

I don’t speak the language and neither do my friends.

While the people of Ukraine would also have been confused, at least they could communicate with each other.  

Everyone wanted to get to a safe place and I had no idea how to do this – locals were flooding towards taxis.  

The drivers took white people and animals over us.

If they did take us Indians, they would charge double, saying that it cost $200 while we watched them charging white people $100. 

I felt like an outsider — I had never experienced the scale of discrimination and racism I saw there – it was sickening and heart-breaking.  

It took me nine days to get from Kyiv to Lviv.

I had to ask for help on the way, with plenty of those from Ukraine willing to support me.  

One group of locals lent me some money, around $80, and others gave me food. I travelled on my own for the nine days after becoming separated from my friends. 

However, on my journey, I was also robbed by people who took my clothes and money while I was in Kyiv. 

Towards the end of my journey, I was exhausted and I came across a local who asked if I was OK.

After explaining my situation and how I had been treated he agreed to help by telling bus drivers I was someone he knew.   

I managed to get to a refugee camp in Poland because this complete stranger in Ukraine guided me to get here.   

It felt like crossing the border both practically and emotionally – it was quite stressful because I thought I may get stopped and then sent back.

I just wanted to get through to the other side.  

Right now, I am in a better place.

I am still at the camp, but have clothes and $100, which someone gave to me on my journey.

I am getting food from the Khalsa Aid stand for which I am so grateful – they’ve been a beacon of light for myself and so many others. 

Life has become a bit more normal and I no longer feel alone.

They give us (the other people here who like me have managed to get out of Ukraine) hot food, masala chai and, most importantly, treat us with love and respect.   

I’m still looking for a place to stay as I can’t stay here for much longer with the camp quickly running out of space. 

I need to look for a way to get to a country where I can study and be safe and move on with my life – Ukraine isn’t safe for me, but neither is India.  

Most of all, I miss my family but I don’t want to upset them that I am in this situation all alone.

I have been in contact with my family more now than before and it’s a relief that I can speak to them as my mother worries a lot. 

I have nightmares and am not sleeping too well as I relive the memories of those first days of the war and my attempted escape.  

Just like many Ukrainian people, Indian students are stranded in the country, and without help or support they will be left on their own like I was.

I hope I can find somewhere to go and that my life takes a positive turn but until then I am safe here and am really grateful for the support I have been given so far. 

While I have concerns about my own future and other students – the main thing I pray for is the end of the war.

My experience has left me scarred for life – I hope no-one else has to go through what I did. 

As told to Minreet Kaur

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