African students who fled Ukriane after Russia launched a full-scale military operation arrive at the Zahony border train station in Hungary. Photo credit: Piero Cruciatti / Alamy Stock Photo

Three Black women coordinate transportation, food and housing for Black students stuck in Ukraine

4 mins read

Patricia Daley, Tokunbo Koiki and Korrine Sky never met each other before the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Yet, they formed an alliance to evacuate Black students trapped in the Eastern European region. 

The African Diaspora watched in horror as reports poured out about Ukraine’s military and citizens barred Black Caribbean along with African students, and even families, from fleeing on trains and buses in areas affected by the Russian invasion. 

To worsen matters, Chinese and Indian students received passage as bombs dropped, while Black students were blocked with the threat of being shot or killed. As days went on, horror turned into disbelief when further reports detailed Black residents’ disallowance in crossing into Poland once many of them arrived by foot.

Korrine Sky, a British medical student, has been detailing her ordeal along with the thousands of Afro-Caribbeans and the 16,000 African students enrolled in the 30-plus medical programs in Ukraine Her reports offered tips and advice for those facing the same ordeal. Such as, being overtaxed by cab drivers and being pushed off of trains. Also, she began to collect monies for transportation to give to scholars trying to flee. Sky is still in transit, and last reported being in Romania.

Eventually, her updates caught the eye of UK barrister, Patricia Daley, and Tokunbo Koiki, a social worker also living in England. Through a series of exchanged tweets, Daley, Koiki and Sky began to devise a plan that coalesced into Black Women for Black Lives. Sky became the on-the-ground intelligence and organizer, while the U.K.-based Daley and Koiki rallied for relief support.

“We started to understand that this was going to be an issue that went beyond trying to support people leaving Ukraine,” Koiki told Black News Channel.

| Watch: U.D. journalist documenting refugee crisis killed by Russian troops at Ukraine checkpoint

After discovering a pocket of students stuck in north-eastern Sumi, Ukraine, the trio took action. The three women launched a petition, while simultaneously assembling a global collective of partners to work towards enabling “the Russian and Ukrainian armies to have a humanitarian corridor to allow safe passage” for students to depart the country. 

In their efforts, they began fundraising. To date, they have raised over $220,000 and helped evacuate over 1,000 coeds and graduates. As well, they coordinate transportation efforts with the American Red Cross, and housing for those left to fend for themselves in Ukraine and Poland. 

Some of their housing is sponsored by Airbnb, who is providing up to two weeks of free lodging for students anywhere in the world. Included in their charitable acts, the newfangled organization is providing modest stipends for those stranded in the areas because local governments also are banning them from getting food or aid from Russia for students trapped in the war-torn country.

“The Russian military has cut off food supplies and the Ukrainian military does not allow African students to take the food the Russians offer,” explained Sky in her messages about Kherson, a Ukrainian city located in the southern part of the country. Currently, it is occupied by the Russian military. She furthered, “access to the internet, electricity, and gas has also been affected and people are living in fear and hunger.”

In addition, Koiki reported that learners stuck in Kherson are now speaking of desperation and suicidal thoughts  after being entrapped in an area where white supremacy robs immigrants of their humanity. A petition calls for the safe passage of confined students there. Thus far, they have been able to ship food to the region.

“These students are resilient and jovial, but they are also scared and hungry. They need to be evacuated immediately and helped to resettle so they can continue pursuing their big dreams,” pleaded Koiki.

In Vinnitsa, Ukraine, a family with children hide in a bunker during the Russian air strikes against Ukraine on February 28, 2022. Photo credit: Halinskyi  via Twenty20

Dreams deferred: How the Ukraine-Russia war disrupts education for thousands of future doctors needed by vulnerable populations around the world

For students who successfully fled Ukraine, their woes continue in neighboring European countries. Koiki says they are given 15 days to pass through nations such as Poland before having to depart. All the while, Ukrainians are provided housing and government aid with an indefinite stay date.

“What we’re doing . . . is helping them to understand immigration laws of the different Eastern European countries they’re entering . . . because at those levels they are facing more discrimination,” explained Koiki.

With traumatic reports of  their experiences, the ultimate devastation for Black students is the complete disruption of their education. Noted as the fourth highest recognized country to provide medical studies, Ukraine has marketed its medical programs as a favorable way for prospects to earn reputable degrees. This provides insight as to why so many foreign students were in the country in the first place. Tens of thousands take advantage of degrees recognized throughout Europe, and the world, at institutions that are far more affordable. 

Moreover, a medical degree in Ukraine is recognized in nations across the globe. Hence, the reason why 24 percent of the immigrant population are Indian students who number at about 30,000. Nigerians make up the next largest group of foreign students at 8,000. The licensure allows them to practice medicine in countries in dire need of medical staff. Furthermore, this applies to the Caribbean and Africa. 

“Most of the Africans stuck in the Ukraine are from elite families,” New Jersey activist and sociologist Afrika told Ark Republic. Many of the students are also mature adults who have started their families as they matriculate through graduate and medical studies.

Unbeknownst to those outside of the situation, Ukraine banks on increased foreign numbers to beef up their institutional legitimacy via students. At the same time, many immigrants often use their programs and knowledge then return to their respective countries to work; even though Ukraine offers them the ability to remain after their studies. A  part of the young country’s efforts to strengthen its workforce, the program sees these students being framed as migrant grifters scheming to remain in Europe; even future medical professionals who will be essential in saving Black lives. 

“We have been speaking to students who were fifth-year medical students who were three months away from completing their program,” said Koiki.

As Ukraine and Russia are well into their third week of war, the long-term consequences are showing the ripple effects throughout the world. The gap in doctors directly impacts the well-being of everyone on the globe. In the meantime, Black Women for Black Lives is working to save a population totally left behind in the conflict.

Kaia Shivers covers news, features and the diaspora.

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