Fleeing Ukraine has become a toll order for thousands of foreigners as travel across the country remains risky, and those that manage to move from one place to another have to pay exorbitant transport costs.
In the eastern city of Sumy, Ukraine, many foreigners, most of them are students, have been unable to leave since the Russian military operation.
Road and rail networks into the city were destroyed, leaving little or no chance for foreigners, most of whom aren’t conversant with subsidiary road networks, to leave.
“Right now, whether you go or whether you stay, it’s a risk. Some people are taking the risk to just leave, and the taxi driver is asking me to pay $2,400 for a journey that on a normal day is just two hours. And a journey that when I take a train, I can pay – let’s say the most I will pay is $5 for that journey. Right now a taxi driver is asking me to pay $2,400. Where are we going to get that money as students to pay,” Erica Bempong, a Ghanaian student in Sumy, told CGTN.
“The situation is that it is impossible at the moment to leave the city. There are no buses, there are no trains. The railways are destroyed. There are no private cars. If you try to use a private car you can be faced by Russians. If you want to try to walk away from the city – not just Russians, but also Ukrainians – are going to see you as a threat and possibly shoot at you,” said Lina Diamond, a Lebanese student in Sumy.
The city has largely remained standing, but fear has gripped its residents.
On more than one occasion, the residents have reported dawn blasts, unsure of their origins or who or what they were targeting.
Each time danger lurks, the residents are forced to go into underground bunkers to protect themselves from any eventualities.
“People are having sleepless nights. Moving to bomb shelters every single time, every single minute. Sirens blowing. One of the scariest moments in my life is these war sirens. When I hear them, I clearly know that something is going to happen the next minute…… It is just sad,” said Wireko Andrew Awuah, a Ghanaian student in Sumy.
Another problem that has now engulfed the city is the scarcity of basic commodities like water and food.
As the inflow of such supplies continues to dwindle, the foreigners are finding it hard to obtain them. In the instances where they access them, they pay nearly 10 times the value they were before last week.
In some instances, the students have been forced to thaw snow to obtain water for domestic use.
Also, despite the obvious threat of physical harm, the stranded people also face the risk of mental health issues.
Before last week, many of them had never found themselves in such situations where the sounds of gunshots and explosions are a daily occurrence. But now, they face these frequently.
The residents have called for an immediate evacuation from the city to spare them from the mental trauma that may hit them after the military operation is concluded.
“This is going to be traumatic in the future. I don’t see how this could not cause PTSD in a lot of people. Feeling like…waking up ‘okay, oh my God! There is an explosion. There are gunshots.’ Things that, you know, really are not something that a normal human being should really suffer from, especially us being students,” Diamond said.
“Okay, maybe say the war is going to stop tomorrow. But what about the mental trauma that affected us during this situation? Is that just going to disappear? Are we going to just be able to come back to normal day-to-day life? No. Of course not.”
According to the United Nations, more than 1.3 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s military operation started.
The agency says tens of thousands continue to leave each day in search for safety.
Most of these people end up across the border into neighboring states, where they are given temporary visas as they plan to travel back to their countries.
Russia and Ukraine have however started talks, and the international community hopes these will culminate into an end to the military conflict.