Second year medical student Korrine Sky shares her harrowing experience fleeing war-torn Ukraine and the discrimination she experienced at the border
I moved to Ukraine to study medicine and until last week was a second year medical student in a place called Dnipro. Initially the messaging we were getting was that it was fake news and there was no war happening, even our universities were saying we shouldn’t listen to the news. I’ve realised now that the media and governments just tell people what they want to hear and give people a false sense of security. On the Wednesday Kyiv was bombed and we realised we needed to leave because the war had started.
My husband went out to find fuel so we could drive to the border. It took nine hours because of the huge queues for supplies; everyone was thinking the same thing, we needed to start moving. Kharkiv is very close to Dnipro so we all knew that if Kharkiv was bombed Dnipro would be next.
I realised that the large African community in Ukraine wouldn’t be given any information, so we needed to start thinking about what we could do as a community to mobilise our way out of Ukraine. I created a Twitter thread which had resources that could help others in my situation and a census so that if you were an African or foreigner in Ukraine you could fill out and if anything happened there was a record of them being in Ukraine and an emergency contact number so your embassy could help.
There is a massive misconception that there are no black people in Ukraine and it's just white Ukrainians, so I spent the whole night and the next day trying to use my platform to spread information. The next day sirens started going off and they imposed a 9pm curfew. There were military everywhere, it looked like some sort of judgement day apocalypse movie. So in the morning we left our apartment. I was supposed to get married on Saturday so I left everything but I took my wedding dress. It sounds silly but it meant a lot to me.
We managed to get two cars together to head to Lviv on the Polish border. Usually it’s a nine hour drive but the journey took us 24 hours, there was so much traffic and we kept getting stopped at military checkpoints where they checked our documents and car, before we finally got to Lviv. There were vigilantes along the route, when we stopped to stretch our legs a man came up to us saying if you stop here I’m going to shoot you. We are civilians, we hadn’t done anything wrong.
On the journey from Dnipro to Lviv I was trying to organise financial aid for others in my position, at first using my own money but then I ran out. I was doing this when a woman called Tokumbo reached out to me on social media wanting to help me fundraise. She managed to raise £40,000, with which we were able to check 12 people into hostels at the border.
The queues to get into Poland were over 70 hours long so we decided to try to get into the Romanian border instead. At the same time I had started my period, I had no change of clothes and no way of showering. We had to ration how much we drank and think if I drink I’ll need to pee in a bush in a certain amount of time. It was horrific, it was like the kind of stuff you see in movies. We ended up spending two days in that queue, while it was raining and snowing, cooped up in this tiny little car.
Once we finally got to the front, that's when the racism started for our group - this man saw us and knocked on the door and told us to get out of the queue. I had always assumed the military were there to make sure the civilians were safe, but the soldier told us to leave the queue to go stand in the pedestrian queue instead. I asked another soldier to assist me and he lunged at me, I was so scared and shaking. So I got back into the car and reported this to the British embassy. Apparently they tried to get through the border to help us but they had been stopped by the military, after that we didn’t hear anything from the embassy again.
In the pedestrian queue there were only people of colour; black and Asian people. In retrospect I think this man was telling us that the car queue was for white Ukrainians and the pedestrian queue was for foreigners, in other words people of colour. Ukrainian people were the only ones allowed to go through quickly, so we ended up spending another 10 hours waiting in the pedestrian queue. At this point now it was raining and we had been out there all day without food or drinks. We had to abandon the car.
Once we finally got through the passport control checkpoint, it was a completely different atmosphere. There were loads of volunteers handing out aid, the Romanian people were so kind and full of hospitality. They took us to a hotel that had been turned into a refugee camp, with hundreds of mattresses on the floor. It wasn’t a comfortable situation but at least we were in warmth and had somewhere to lay our heads.
After a few days we got a flight to Luton airport. Once we got there the man at border control didn’t believe that we had come from Ukraine. He kept asking if I was really British, despite the fact he had my British passport in front of him. He said my husband shouldn’t have been allowed into the country because he didn’t have a visa. I told him that we had been given special dispensation because we hadn’t been able to pick up his visa from Kyiv and told him to check as it was all on our records.
We got moved into a detention room, where I was able to contact my mum who contacted my MP to tell them what was happening. They called border force straight away and told them to start being more humane and treat us some dignity, we hadn't done anything wrong and they were able to confirm that everything we were telling them was true. Even though they could have confirmed it themselves, because they have direct contact to UK visas and immigration.
I’m finally home now, trying to raise awareness for people who are still stuck in Ukraine. There are students in Sumy, which is close to the Russian border, who are stuck and can’t leave. As I’ve been posting about it online I’ve started being targeted by British trolls, getting death threats, making videos about me and harassing me.
I don’t even know how I feel now, I haven’t had a chance to unpack everything. I feel like my body is in the UK but my head is still in Ukraine, I keep forgetting there’s no war here. Also because I’m constantly communicating with the remaining students in Ukraine and getting death threats on social media has contributed to me still feeling on edge. I don’t have a plan for the future at the moment, I just want to stay alive at this point.
Korrine is raising money for her organisation Black Women for Black Lives to help other black people gain safe passage out of Ukraine. Follow Korrine's progress through her Instagram account and donate at the gofundme page here.
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Juliana Piskorz is a freelance journalist and broadcaster. Over the course of her career she has written for a smorgasbord of magazines and national newspapers including The Sunday Times, Dazed and Confused, the Independent, the Guardian, Refinery29 and The Face among others.
Before going freelance, Juliana was the Digital Editor at the Evening Standard Magazine and a Staff Writer at the Observer Magazine.
Juliana has a partcular interest in art, fashion, travel and the pop culture.
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