Photograph: Robert Ghement/EPA

Investigations have shown that even with sourced means to get to a point of refuge, racist behaviours at the Poland/Ukraine border are thwarting Nigerians from escaping Putin’s bombs. Even in war, racism still prevails. 

Chidinma Iwu interviews three Nigerian students on their ordeals in Ukraine and how they’ve been finding strength. and even happiness: amidst fear, racism and rejection

They actually wanted to crush us with their bus, and even pointed guns at us while we were shouting “we are students, allow us to cross” because we didn’t allow them to cross their people first before us. We forced our way in, and they gave up. I have these on video recording,” Alexander Somto’s tweet read.

The tweet was not the first to point out the segregation and discrimination from Ukrainian patrols to black people, it wasn’t the second or the third, but it made a huge statement especially with how much video proof it was followed up with. It seemed that even amidst the annihilation of their country Ukrainians despise(d) blacks and were hell bent on demonstrating this regardless of the situation.

In the middle of a disproportionate war, under the wrath of an antagonist, Vladimir Putin, and with barely enough manpower to sustain the sanity of their country, how are Ukrainians still behaving in racist ways to visitors of colour and people of African and Asian descent who have made their home in Ukraine? Even though Jessica Orakpo was seemingly safe and had somewhere to sleep, you could hear the shakiness in her voice and see the empathetic fear on her face for other black people in Ukraine in a video interview with BBC news. “They said if you’re black, you should walk,” Jessica says, trying to catch her breath. “The term ‘walking’ is traumatising to me. I walked for 12 good hours and I am not exaggerating.”

When the average Nigerian talks about living in Nigeria, it’s clear they are aware of it’s perceived shortcomings— they’re in a vicious cycle of struggling with coping mechanisms and adaptive strategies to steer through the course of living and thriving. Everyday, there’s a new traumatic development— if it’s not acute recession and inflation in the costs of goods, it’s a string of long indefinite strikes by the bodies administering Academic institutions— Nigerians have been conditioned to keep up with the movements of the tides that arbitrarily steers the ship of Nigeria’s problems. Living in Nigeria and waking up everyday to its numerous woes can be taxing on body and soul.

So when Nigerians leave for more developed countries (which are mostly predominantly white), they’re seeking to break out from age-long and interconnected practices which have shackled them and their families. They want a system which would not limit their education or deprive them of basic rights to something as simple as eating healthily. But the sad truth is they’re no longer just Nigerians when they leave for these countries with better infrastructure, they’re now people from under developed countries, people with black skins, people who are subject to racism. If it’s not shown through everyday interactions and encounters between black, brown and white people, it is portrayed through set laws and rules placing black people heavily at a disadvantage.

We pay higher rent, we pay way higher than them in school fees, and they still think they are doing us a favour? This is nuts. If a Ukrainian is paying 200$ per month for rent, Africans will be charged 500$ for the same apartment and we pay without complaint,” Alexander says in a distress tweet amidst racist encounters from Ukrainians.

It seems so out rightly ridiculous that Europeans think that people from outside of Europe live any less meaningful lives and that people of African descent wouldn’t want to be with their families. Yet throughout this conflict we have seen not only Nigerians but others of African and Indian descent reduced to less than human and stripped of basic human rights. It is inhumane to not let people fight for their safety and deliberately expose them to danger prone zones.

Yet again, Nigerian students are compelled to cope with distressing situations from which they sought an escape when they left Nigeria. Forced to try to breathe in the center of death, to be happy when sadness is all that surrounds them and deal with having their own mental health and those around them.

These three Nigerian students in Ukrainian Universities are earnestly trying to breathe.

Speaking with Media Diversified, Samuel George says he’s trying to stay optimistic and connected to the rest of the world through his smartphone. “We have been stressed by the war so far as we’ve spent almost 2 full days on the road. We left Kyiv on Friday morning. The Ukrainian police and paramilitary controlling the traffic haven’t been friendly or cooperative with us and they favour Ukrainians more. They allow them to drive one-way but refuse us and tell us to go back to the end of the queue,” Samuel says, narrating his ordeals.

The initial nonchalance from the Nigerian government towards extracting their citizens didn’t faze George. “We were not too surprised as that is what has come to be expected of them,” he states. On coping with the course of events, George has been trying to play games and listen to music. 

“There are Nigerians around me and they are being helpful. We have listened to music in the car, played word games, and heated up the car to try to be more comfortable. We also have to wind down the glass of the car at intervals to reduce fog,” he told us.

Another Nigerian already in grief before the start of the war says American comedy shows are her go-to for relief. Oladunjoye Ifeoluwa, Nigerian graduate of Physiology and 3rd year Medical student in Ukraine tells Media Diversified that she has been moving around with other students for safety, and binge watching American comedies has been relieving for her. It didn’t matter how many times she’s previously watched them.

“Anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy laughing and so, to avoid losing my mind? I am relying on Seinfeld, Veep, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Arrested Development and Mr. D to help me through the darkest period of my life,” Ifeoluwa says.

Chinedu Uneze, a Marine Engineering student says although he was deeply troubled, his mental health is in good shape now. “The war isn’t really something anyone would like to experience. Although it didn’t affect me physically, it caused stress and mental unrest for everyone. It came unexpectedly,” Chinedu begins. 

Due to the crowd— which is expected— at the train station and at the border, Chinedu says racism was in full play. “Everyone wasn’t treated fairly. Ukrainians were taken into the train before us and it caused chaos,” Chinedu continues.

“I’ve done a lot to feel better. I pray, listen to music, and talk with friends. The people I have around me are very happy and good people so we keep the energy. There are lots of Nigerians and other African brothers as well. We teamed up during these times in groups.”

Chidinma Iwu is a writer and content strategist who covers stories about the economy, sustainability, society and women. She likes to think there’s an intersection between wrong, right, and an appearance of rightness— and she’s keen on studying the point where they converge. She’s on Twitter @TheDinmaaa, tweeting spontaneously and wishing there’s better for women. 

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