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‘I want to be home:’ overseas students in Ukraine seek safe routes out

International students studying at medical schools in Dnipro are seeking routes out of Ukraine as Russian troops move across the country. Explosions were heard in the central Ukrainian city early on Thursday morning after Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale offensive on the country.

About 2,000 foreign nationals study at Dnipro Medical Institute, a number of whom responded to a Guardian callout for voices on the ground.

Zohir Ali, a british medical student, who had been studying in Dnipro
Zohir Ali, a British medical student, who had been studying in Dnipro Photograph: Zohir Ali

Among them was Zohir Ali, 22, from Manchester, who has been studying dentistry there for three years. He spoke from a private coach travelling towards Lviv, packed with 49 students from Europe, the Middle East and Africa, nearly 24 hours into the journey. Other passengers included two dogs – a chihuahua and a white labradoodle – both owned by students.

The coach was arranged at short notice by the medical student agency that supports his studies abroad, at a cost of $150 (about £110) a person, leaving at 6pm on Thursday. Ali, who is in regular contact with his parents, brother and sister back in the UK, said: “Everyone’s trying to remain as positive as they can. The decision to leave last night was rushed, and we didn’t have time to gather all our stuff.

“Students have left a lot of their belongings, along with most of their work, which they are worried will go to waste. I was only able to pack two bags. The bus company recommended we don’t take any heavy luggage with us.

International students on a coach heading for Lviv on Friday
International students on a coach heading for Lviv on Friday. Photograph: Zohir Ali

“Before we got to the bus things were quiet, no one really spoke a word. Students are worried about whether they will ever come back to finish their degrees, or if they will get their credentials to transfer to other international universities. Will they have to start from scratch again? Right now, I just want to be home.”

Ali said he had been told by the British embassy that he would be able to cross the border into Poland, and so he would stay on the bus after it drops off other students in Lviv who have not yet received similar guarantees from their embassies. He plans to book a flight back to the UK at the first opportunity once he is over the border.

Adam Hadouiri, an 18-year-old Moroccan who is studying at Dnipro State Medical University, remains at his hostel in the Sobornyi district with about 50 other students. “Everyone is panicked and stressed. Most people want to head to Lviv, avoiding Kyiv, of course, as that is risky,” he said on Friday.

“I am waiting for the embassy to act. If I want to go to Poland [but without the right accreditation], they could stop me and prevent me from entering. So basically I have been waiting for the embassy to guarantee I can pass like others have.”

Adam Hadouiri in his student accommodation in Dnipro
Adam Hadouiri in his student accommodation in Dnipro. Photograph: Adam Hadouiri

The streets had been quiet since explosions were heard on Thursday, Hadouiri said, and a curfew was set to come into force from 10pm. He was yet to see military presence, only police officers and ambulance services.

“I don’t see a lot of people going out,” he said. “The streets are empty. Everyone is indoors or searching for shelters to hide in. Right now, we are just waiting for sirens. I’m ready to go to my shelter as soon as I hear them.”

Hadouiri, who is from Morocco’s capital, Rabat, has found a public shelter about five minutes away from his hostel, which he feels is safer than hiding in the basement.

Empty streets in Dnipro on Friday
Empty streets in Dnipro on Friday. Photograph: Adam Hadouiri

Rita Ansah, a 20-year-old medical student from Ghana, has lived in Dnipro since 2019. The Ghanaian embassy arranged for buses to transport students to Romania, she said, but they were cancelled on Friday afternoon after drivers refused to undertake the journey.

She said she had since been told by the embassy to organise her own route out of the country. “I’m feeling quite alone,” she told the Guardian from student accommodation near the city centre.

“Most of the people on my floor are Ukrainians and Moroccans, so we don’t speak a common language. Right now I’m just focusing on packing, although I will have to leave most of my clothes behind. We have been advised to only take a small backpack.”

Her plan is to book a public bus to Poland leaving on Monday, for $50, which is thought to be the safest form of travel as rail lines may be bombing targets.

'I don't want to leave': Ukrainians record messages from their cars as they flee war – video
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