One African woman’s epic trek out of Ukraine

Bijan Hosseini

My sister was trapped in Ukraine. During her escape to Poland she experienced racism, injuries, freezing temperatures and sleep deprivation.

Her story is only one of the hundreds of thousands of people trying to get out.

Firstly, my sister is adopted. She’s from Sierra Leone.

She was staying in Kyiv when war broke out. She, and those she was with, attempted to leave. Cars were at a standstill from Kyiv to Lviv (a city in west Ukraine close to Poland’s border).

They managed to find a driver who said he could take them to Dnipro (a city in east Ukraine near Russia’s border). From there they hoped to get a bus or train to Lviv. The driver charged them $700 for a seven-hour journey.

Once they arrived in Dnipro and noticed the bus and trains weren’t working, they begged the driver to take them to Lviv. He agreed, for an additional $1,500.

They piled in a small sedan. Eight of them, including a thirteen-month-old baby. Ready for their fifteen-hour journey back west.

After reaching Lviv. The driver said he would continue on to get them to the border. But after 30 hours on the road, he said he had to go back to Kyiv. My sister and her friends had to leave the car and attempt to reach the border on foot.

After walking 10 hours in freezing temperatures, they decided to leave their belongings behind to lighten the load.

When they arrived at the border, they were not let in. Two lines were formed. One for white people, the other for everyone else. Only Ukrainians were being let over the border. Thousands of people were forced to sleep outside in the cold. Fires were started to keep people warm.

The next morning my sister fainted. She was exhausted from all the walking and hadn’t gotten proper sleep or food in days. An ambulance picked her up at the border and drove her four miles back east. She was given fluids and finally got some rest.

After leaving the hospital, they got a ride back to Lviv – with hopes of getting a bus ticket out (since crossing on foot was not an option).

What was supposed to be a two-and-a-half-hour bus trip from Lviv to Przemysl, Poland, took 24 hours to reach the border.

Once the bus finally made it to the border (the same border she was at two days before) someone announced that “all blacks” needed to get off. My sister and her friends, bravely, refused to get off.

They were met with the same racist treatment that thousands of others have reported at borders and bus and train stations across the country.

After sitting at the border for five hours, they were finally let through – ending their 4 ½-day journey (108 hours).

My sister is lucky. She’s safe, in a hotel where she was finally able to shower and sleep in a bed. There are still thousands of people in her shoes trapped on the other side. More than a million refugees have fled Ukraine, during the Russian invasion, according to the UN.

(Bijan Hosseini a producer for CNN in Abu Dhabi)

Image & Video source: @BijanNN