David, Mechanical Engineering student from Nigeria
On February 26, we published an article detailing the experiences of four African students as they attempted to flee Ukraine as Russia invaded their territory. The room, What African students experience, recounted the harrowing journeys the students endured to flee the Eastern European nation.
David is a Nigerian citizen who was pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering when the Russian attack took place. However, Ukraine requires students from certain countries to take a one-year English course, so he didn’t get a chance to start his studies.
We caught up with David a few months after the initial strike to get a fuller picture of his journey out of war-torn Ukraine and how he settled afterwards. Click here to read other stories in this series.
Donate to David here.
Answers edited for length and clarity.
“I managed to leave Ukraine. Then from Romania I entered Germany, then from Germany to Italy. I am in Italy now. At the moment I went to immigration and I Asked for a petition to extend my stay – they are still giving it to me.
The town where I was, Rivne, was hit by missiles. The day [the war began] they launched missiles and everyone was so scared. Rivne was hit very hard. Getting out of Ukraine was so hectic because of the Ukrainian army. They are so racist, and that made the process so much more difficult. I sat at the border for almost two days before being allowed through.
I fell ill when I finally arrived in Romania, and a woman helped me by buying me medicine so that I was strong enough to continue. The trip was not easy. It’s the middle of winter, so it’s freezing cold in Ukraine. I had to leave everything behind in case I had to flee. All I traveled with was a school bag that I stuffed with clothes. It was then impossible to find a means of transport because the banks ceased to operate and no longer accepted foreign bank cards. All my money, sitting in my bank account, but I couldn’t withdraw it. So my friends with cash in hand were able to carry me, fortunately.
Traveling from Lviv to the Romanian border took us 10-12 hours I think. But, we stayed at the border for two days, I think, because of racism. They allowed the Ukrainians to move first, while we blacks waited shouting. I think our screams and noises made them let us pass.
I have traveled with other Nigerians and a close friend of mine is also here in Italy. He has an uncle here in Italy, but I don’t have anyone here. I met a man in a park near the station [in Italy] and he offered to put me up.
Some of my friends have returned to Nigeria. But, I can’t go back. I suffered from traveling here in the first place. My father died when I was young, so I’m the breadwinner of my family. When I was studying in Ukraine, I worked part-time so I could feed my family [back in Nigeria]. Things are not easy for my family, I am their only hope. If I come back, how can we live? How can we feed ourselves? It’s so bad in my family that’s why I can’t go back to Nigeria. I’m trying to find a way to stay, find a job or try to sort out my life here. So, I’m waiting for a work visa.
I can’t see myself going back to Ukraine – I had already planned to leave. My goal while traveling abroad was to find work, but there is none in Ukraine. I worked there as a carpenter and it didn’t pay well. I was making $250 a month. I sent $100 to my family in Nigeria, used it to buy myself food and stuff, then saved $50. That’s it. There are no jobs in Ukraine, and it is a very difficult country to live in. I was trying to find a connection or something to travel out west and get a better job.”