A student’s Flight- Part 2


By Kate Nwachukwu

For Part 1 click here

Kyiv to Lviv

The train ride was grueling. Droves of people stood in the passages of the sleeping car, squished together like fish caught in a net, with no room to move forwards or backwards, and such a simple, normally uncomplicated task of visiting the toilet was arduous. There was no free space to stretch your legs nor spread your arms. Jane was faced with two options: to stand for the entirety of her unplanned trip or to sit on the cold, hard floor of the train. She stood for 30 minutes before she could not bear it any longer, she found a shopping bag to lay on the floor and sit on.

Despite being packed in tight like a pack of sardines, she chanced a peak at the sleeper located directly in front of her. She had seen a man go in and out of a compartment, always quickly locking the door behind himself. When she peaked inside, she saw a little Ukrainian girl who was around 4-5 years old, two adult men, and a woman who looked to be in her late 40s to early 50s occupying the room. Only four people on four beds had hugged a room all to themselves, and when asked if they could sacrifice some room for the foreign female students sitting on the floor in front of them, they claimed that they had paid for their seats, and therefore did not have to share their space with anyone else. In the middle of the room, on the table was an opened bag of snacks, a pack of cigarettes and a small bottle of vodka. They closed the door once more.

One and a half hours passed by and the door once again opened, this time it was wide open for everyone to see. The man sat on the bottom bunk stared at us. He looked at the girl to the left of Jane and said “красива,” meaning “beautiful,” and began to converse with her, eventually allowing her to take a seat in the sleeper room, on the seat/bed where he was sitting. Some 30 minutes later, the door opened once again, the girl who had previously entered the room urged her friend to Jane’s right to put on her best smile, she did, and he once again commented “красива” and let her in, closing the compartment door behind him.

Once again, the door opened, and this time the woman in the compartment, let Jane and the girl on her left sit down, and after five hours of dozing off on the floor, and shifting to adjust to the hardness of the floor, she had finally gotten a place to sit down. Four foreign girls sat on a seat/bed in silence, heads on hands or laps, dozing off. The train didn’t follow one direction, as the driver had to take rails damaged by the bombs into account and change tracks accordingly. This was jarring, you never knew what direction you were going in. It was a strenuous 13 hours.

The man had dozed off on the bunk above Jane’s and had now woken up again, seven hours into the journey, he looked down at all the girls and exclaimed “all beautiful girls.” This left Jane stricken with discomfort, but it was this or the floor. She eventually arrived in Lviv. Luckily, she had learnt during the awkward train ride that a different train had shown up four to six hours later to pick up the people at the train station, back in Kyiv. She was sure that her brother and her friends had caught it. Jane relaxed.

Screenshot 2022-12-17 174231


Upon arriving in Lviv, she reconnected with her brother and friends and decided to stay at a hotel. With her mind still set on Poland, she began to contact everyone who was attempting to cross the border. Firstly, there are those who used taxis to cross the border. Ukrainian men were the main drivers of these taxis. To build up emergency funds and in case of loss of network, no one accepted card payments. Drivers used this opportunity to demand heinous amounts of money from passengers to drive them to the border of Poland. However, they were not allowed to cross the border themselves, and traffic had already blocked the road and discouraged most people from taking that root to flee the country. Half an hour into the journey, drivers declared that they did not want to wait in traffic for several hours and asked the passengers to walk the rest of the way, or to turn back around and drop them off at the original location.

Secondly, there were people who chose to walk the six- to seven-hour journey in the snow to go to Poland. Most had started with one piece of luggage and later abandoned it in favor of a backpack in order to trudge through the snow more efficiently. If they had eventually reached the border at Poland, they could not cross to enter the country, as border patrol did not allow people who were not in a car to pass through the border. This disproportionately affected the foreign students, a majority of whom did not own, nor drive cars in Ukraine. So, foreigners, students, children and young adults were left in the cold to wait for what? The videos of them huddled together on the open road, patiently waiting for the guards to allow them to cross the border was the stuff of nightmares. For hours upon hours, students waited at the border – there were instances of fainting, and people needing to resuscitate others who had succumbed to the harsh Ukrainian winter. Foreign students huddled up together to survive the frosty winter conditions. Horrifying.

Thirdly, there were those who took the buses. They were allowed immediate entrance into Poland, but again, those buses were for mothers and children, although this was more accessible to foreign mothers and children as well. Lastly, there were the trains. Many foreigners had been stuck waiting for three days to board a train to safety. Jane had met multiple people who waited every day from morning till night to board a train. They were all black male students. So, her need to go to Poland vanished, and she settled on whatever country had an embassy of her country in it. Setting her sights on Hungary, she arrived at the train station the next morning.

Ukrainian women and children far outnumbered the students trying to flee the war, and they all faced one particular platform, from which the trains for Poland left from. There was definitely no hope of Jane boarding that train. Luggage in tow, they sat on boxes with the wintry air penetrating through layers of clothing. Two hours later, a train arrived, no one on that platform could board it, as this train was reserved for paying passengers. You might wonder where one was expected to buy tickets, and you wouldn’t have been the only one who asked the same question. A second train came, this train was departing for Slovakia, foreigners ran across rail tracks to board that train, because no Ukrainians wanted to get on it. As they say, one man’s poison is another man’s meat. But, since there was no embassy for her country there, and no one was sure about the treatment of foreign refugees in the country, most waited for a better opportunity to arrive.

One hour later, the train to Uzhhorod pulled into the train station, and many Ukrainians did not take this train either, but Jane, her friends and a congregation of foreigners boarded the train. Everyone had heard good news about Hungary, they were opening up their borders to allow African students to pass through.

Screenshot 2022-12-17 174319


Uzhhorod was a place seemingly untainted, even though the air-raid sirens still rang at every chance they could. She got off the train and watched as people departed for countries they viewed as the best and most open and inviting to foreigners. Located right outside the train station were people who helped the refugees by ordering taxis and giving directions related to borders and how to get there. They asked for help, and a taxi was called for them.

On getting to Chop (the Ukrainian town bordering Zahony in Hungary), she was astonished to see the line of 100 to 150 people who were attempting to buy tickets to cross the border. Imagine that in a time of crisis, people still asked for tickets! Mostly foreigners were at the border. The line stretched for hours on end. So, her partner and friends hustled up some tickets, and lined up at the next area to cross the border. The booths that opened to passport control were closed, so people simply stood in lines waiting for the barriers to open

Jane’s friends got separated from her during this period, to discover what was causing the impediment. Suddenly a booth opened right in front of her. Soon her friends and partner had gone through. It was only her and her brother left, and she struggled to get in. Have you ever felt the weight of 100 or more people pushing at your back, sides, and front in a closed space, all frightfully striving to pass through a tiny door? It is merciless. The situation had progressed past the point of chaos. The girl who she had been talking to was swept away in the waves of bodies swerving from left to right, she had started to hyperventilate, and chosen to head for safety. Multiple bags, boxes, and bodies scraped her sides, back, and front of her torso. There was no room to breathe.

Only one booth was open, and soon enough she was standing right in front of it. In between the doors recurrent opening and closing, she donned her best distressed lugubrious face, and was yanked through the door by the guard. Once again, separated from her brother. With much begging and a bit of hustle he was pulled through the door. Passports and documents were checked, and soon enough, the train to Hungary was boarded. It was a two-minute journey, and everyone’s passport was taken from them to be officially ‘checked’ into the country. She was finally out of Ukraine.


Spread the love