Trains and buses carrying people west to Poland, Romania, Hungary and other European Union countries carry large numbers of foreign students, workers and others who considered l Ukraine as their home country before Russia invaded its neighbor last week.
At a refugee center in Bucharest, the Romanian capital, Indian citizens told the AP on Tuesday that Ukrainian border guards were giving priority to their fellow Ukrainians to exit the country and were trying to physically push back non-Ukrainians.
Vishwajeet Kumar, a 24-year-old medical student, said he heard gunshots and saw people pass out during a 20-hour wait at the Romania-Ukraine border.
“They were grooming their own citizens to go first…and barely giving us a chance to cross,” he said. “Every time we approached the border, they pushed us back.”
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Kamal Thakur, a 34-year-old man from Punjab, India, described his own ordeal trying to enter Poland, saying Ukrainian guards threatened and sometimes beat Indians with sticks.
“They said it was because we were Indians, and they said our prime minister was pro-Russian and not pro-Ukraine,” Thakur told the AP from the safety of Przemsyl, a Polish border town. .
Poland’s UN ambassador Krzysztof Szczerski said refugees admitted from Ukraine on Monday morning alone represented 125 countries. Ukrainians were naturally the vast majority.
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But Polish officials said the refugees included at least 100 nationals each from Uzbekistan, Nigeria, India, Morocco, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Poland, Belarus, Iran, Turkey, Algeria and Russia.
Many refugees of various nationalities noted the welcome and assistance they received once they left Ukraine.
In Przemysl, which became the first stopping point in Poland for many war refugees, thousands of individuals and families sought help.
They include foreign students who had studied at Ukrainian universities and do not know if they will be able to return. Several students said they would try to continue their studies elsewhere in Europe rather than returning to their home countries.
“Of course I will stay in Europe,” said Ahmed Mughni, a 22-year-old Yemeni boy, as he warmed himself around a campfire after crossing from Poland to Medyka. Mughni studied cybersecurity and radio electronics in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, which Russian strikes pounded on Tuesday.
“Yemen is also a place of war,” he explained in an interview with the AP.
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Ahmed Ibrahim, a 23-year-old Egyptian, arrived in Poland with his cat in a carrier on Monday evening feeling dazed and sick after days of travel. He said he had studied medicine in Ukraine for five years and only had one year left. Ibrahim had no idea what his future held or even his next steps.
“What should I do?” He asked.
Earlier, a Pakistani man got off a bus that came from the city of Lviv in western Ukraine. Shivering in the cold of a supermarket parking lot, he tells a volunteer that he wants to go to Germany but has no money.
The volunteer asked him if he wanted to be taken to Krakow, a Polish city that would bring him closer to Germany, and he said yes.
The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday that some 660,000 refugees had already fled Ukraine to neighboring countries. Poland, a country of the European Union which already welcomes many Ukrainians who have come to work in recent years, is the one which has recorded the most arrivals.
“That figure has grown exponentially, hour by hour, literally, since Thursday,” agency chief Filippo Grandi told the United Nations Security Council on Monday as the number topped half a million. “I have worked on refugee crises for almost 40 years and have rarely seen such an incredibly rapid exodus of people – the largest, surely, in Europe since the Balkan wars.”
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The UN has estimated that up to 4 million refugees could leave Ukraine if the war deteriorates further.
Rania Sadki, a Moroccan architecture student who spent her 20s at a gym in Medyka, a village in southeastern Poland, said she plans to go to an uncle in Belgium.
Some non-Ukrainians have complained that they waited longer to cross the Polish border than Ukrainians, and in some cases felt badly treated.
Sadki’s friend Fatima Arrossufi, who had also studied architecture in Kharkiv, reported that Ukrainian border guards hit her boyfriend in the head and leg and that he was hospitalized in Ukraine.
Kaneka Agnihotri, an Indian student who has lived in Ukraine for six years, walked six hours without food to the Shehyni border post. There, she said, Ukrainian guards humiliated her and a group of other Indians, telling them to get up and sit down again and again and come closer to them with guards.
She told the AP that her group then moved to another border crossing where they were treated well. Once the group reached Poland, officials did everything to help, Agnihotri said.
There are reports that Africans, in particular, have been ill-treated by Ukrainian border guards.
Cihan Yildiray, a 26-year-old Turk who worked in Kyiv, said Ukrainians were crossing the border checkpoint more easily. He said he saw black people and people of Arab descent being beaten by Ukrainian guards.
Andreea Alexandru and Stephen McGrath in Bucharest contributed to this report.
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