At dawn on February 24, Olufunmilola Bamidele found 40 missed calls and numerous voicemails on her phone.
The 33-year-old Nigerian postgraduate student at the Dnipro Medical Institute in Ukraine had completed her studies and had gone to bed a few hours earlier.
The calls came from relatives in Nigeria worried about her safety because Russia had invaded Ukraine.
“If I hadn’t woken up to go to the bathroom, I wouldn’t have seen them because I probably would have woken up around 7 or 7:30 a.m.,” Bamidele told DW.
News sites reported explosions in the Ukrainian capital, kyiv, and in Kharkiv. Explosions were also heard in Dnipro, which lies between the two cities.
Dnipro is a six-hour drive from Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, whose outskirts have been heavily attacked
Discrimination in trains
Bamidele initially wanted to stay in his home of the past six years.
“I was like, I’m going to stay here since this town is still quiet and nothing’s going on. So definitely, maybe, we’ll be safe until the end,” she said.
But his parents in Nigeria ordered him to leave Ukraine.
On February 28, Bamidele left for the station. She told DW she wanted to see if it was true that strangers weren’t allowed on outgoing trains. Media reports of stranded African, Indian and Arab students were going viral.
“I just wanted to see what was going on because I heard on the news that they don’t allow foreigners on the trains,” she said.
“When I got there it was very crowded. I met people who said they had been there for 12 hours and weren’t allowed to get on the train.”
She said she saw a person of color smash a train window and a fight broke out.
The rush to any bus
The next day, Bamidele returned to the station and found some of the strangers she had seen the day before still waiting. There were only two trains a day to Lviv, not far from the Polish border.
Russian missiles had damaged the station and Ukrainian soldiers had been ordered to prevent entry and exit from Dnipro from March 3
Bamidele realized she had to leave immediately. A day before the city closed, she scoured bus stations for a way out and met a woman who could get her on a private bus.
A few hours later, Bamidele, five other Nigerian students from the Dnipro Medical Institute and 44 other people boarded a 50-seater bus bound for the border.
Hypothermia and exhaustion
The six Nigerian students didn’t want to go to the Romanian border, but that’s where the bus was headed.
“So when we arrived in a city near Romania after 24 hours, it was a very hectic trip for us because we had to stop at every checkpoint and there were a lot of checkpoints,” Bamidele said. .
The soldiers, she said, checked everyone to make sure there were no “trespassers” on the bus.
The students decided to stay in the Ukrainian city of Chernivtsi until they found out which country they would try to reach.
Soldiers in Ukraine search for ‘intruders’ at checkpoints
They had to come up with a plan while suffering from hypothermia, Bamidele said. They had also heard of the discrimination and mistreatment of Africans at the Polish border.
Hotels and apartments in Chernivtsi were full, but the group of students eventually found two very small rooms to rent.
“This city was cold and so was the apartment. There was nothing we could do. So we were there the first day to see what was going to happen. Maybe there would be another border that s would open, and we would be going there,” Bamidele said.
A smoother journey to Hungary
By the third day, the cold rooms of Chernivtsi had become unbearable. At the bus station, they bought tickets to Uzhhorod, near the border between Ukraine and Hungary.
The 12-hour journey to Uzhhorod was smoother than the journey to Chernivtsi and there were fewer military checkpoints.
They arrived in Uzhhorod around 4 a.m. on March 6 and took a taxi to the town of Chop, where they waited to be transferred to a train bound for the Hungarian border. Too tired to wait another five hours for a free train, the students bought tickets for a train leaving immediately for Budapest, the Hungarian capital.
Young Africans are fleeing to Hungary because people of color are more welcome there.
On the platforms of Budapest’s main station, many volunteers were present to help those fleeing Ukraine. Bamidele said it distributed toiletries and other basic supplies. Some even opened their homes to those who had nowhere to go.
In Dnipro, Bamidele was a volunteer for Diaspora Relief. In Budapest, a volunteer from the association welcomed the six students and took them to a hostel.
Bamidele’s uncle in Nigeria was not happy that she was staying in a hostel where men and women shared bedrooms and bathrooms. On March 8, she moved into a private one-bedroom apartment he had booked online.
Bamidele volunteered to cook for the students and to help others who were still trying to reach Hungary.
“I started cooking because I knew a lot of people hadn’t eaten good food. We had eaten junk food. And I knew that while they were at the hostel, they couldn’t even not cook. So, finding myself in a comfortable place, I was like: let me cook for other people who don’t have this opportunity, ”she said.
Soon Bamidele was cooking for over 300 students. The meals are sponsored by Diaspora Relief.
Rejection upon rejection
Bamidele does more for African students than cooking as they are going through a tough time in Hungary. Accommodation is hard to find. Apartments should be booked for four to five nights and check-in is always at 4:00 p.m. and check-out at 10:00 a.m. Students need a place to stay warm in between.
Governments of countries like Nigeria, Zambia and South Africa have helped students to leave Ukraine
Bamidele helps people find apartments where newcomers can stay temporarily.
“After we book on Airbnb, we have to go and check if they want us as people from Ukraine because it’s very difficult to find hosts who are going to host people from Ukraine,” she said. .
DW interviewed several of the African students who had traveled to Hungary about their experience. Many have said Airbnb apartment owners in Hungary are now refusing to rent to them.
“They are not specific but I think they are Africans,” Bamidele suggested.
African students in Hungary also told DW that Ukrainians who fled to Hungary were more likely to find private accommodation or stay in refugee camps.
Racism in a refugee camp
A Ghanaian management student who declined to be named said he left the refugee camp he was placed in after fleeing Sumy in northeast Ukraine due to discrimination. He told DW that a Ukrainian man complained to camp officials that sleeping next to a black man was traumatic. The student was then moved to another space in the camp.
“So hearing this, a lot of people don’t want to stay in a refugee camp. So we’re just looking for Airbnb and some of the NGOs like Diaspora Relief have paid for food and accommodation,” he said.
Although many African students in Hungary are without stable accommodation, some still try to attend online courses offered by their universities in Ukraine, while others take language courses offered by the Hungarian government.
Olufunmilola Bamidele told DW she will stay in Budapest for the time being. But she plans to visit Ireland, which she has heard is open to Africans who have left Ukraine.
Edited by: Benita van Eyssen