Lolade Lawal’s life has been turned upside down in ways she never imagined.
The third-year Nigerian medical student is coping with the effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine which began last week.
“It’s scary, very scary. I’m very worried. People are running for their lives. We’re hiding in groups so we can keep an eye on each other,” Lawal told Al Jazeera by phone as she was sheltering with other students in a safe bunker in the city of Sumy, in the northeast of the country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered what he called a “special military operation” against Ukraine on Thursday. A full-scale invasion followed, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declaring martial law, saying his country would defend itself.
On Saturday, the fighting reached the streets of Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, as Russian troops advanced.
According to the US military, Russia now has at least 50% of its estimated 150,000 invading forces in Ukraine.
The conflict has so far killed more than 200 civilians, including three children. Nearly 1,100 people have been injured in the conflict, including 33 children, according to Ukraine’s Health Ministry.
The United Nations estimates that more than 100,000 people have been internally displaced since the conflict began.
“There is no escape. The trains stopped running. Most supermarkets are closed and those that do open are running out of food stocks. ATMs are not working and everyone is desperate for cash,” Lawal said, as sirens sounded in the background.
There are no official figures on the number of African students currently studying in Ukraine, but Lawal said “we are hundreds in our city”.
“In my university, there are about 100 Nigerian students. I take refuge with some of them,” Lawal added.
Some students managed to cross the Polish border.
“I live in Kyiv. I have been living here since March last year,” Somto Orah, a student at Kyiv State University of Telecommunications, told Al Jazeera.
“We have received no support from any government authority. The school only gave us a bomb shelter to hide in when the air raid siren is on. The sirens went on and off about five times yesterday before I left,” added Orah, a Nigerian national.
“There is little food. I haven’t been able to access cash for two days now. Not all ATMs on the road have cash.
Others were even less fortunate.
Samuel George, a first-year software engineering student, fled Kiev after bombings and sirens became too much for him to handle.
“I drove from Kiev. We try to survive. We don’t want to die in a foreign country,” George said.
As he approached the Polish border, Samuel’s luck changed. He said he had a minor traffic accident with a vehicle carrying Ukrainians because the road was narrow.
He said they took his money and stopped him from driving any further.
“They are not civil servants, policemen or soldiers. It was normal citizens who stopped us Africans from driving to the border. They let the Ukrainians through, but not us,” George said.
“I am now walking towards the border. I have no other choice. I don’t know how far the border is. They even took our money. It’s like they’re not human beings,” George said, adding that he couldn’t talk on the phone anymore because his hands were freezing in sub-zero temperatures.
On Saturday, the Polish Interior Ministry said more than 115,000 people entered Poland from Ukraine, adding that all Ukrainians were allowed to enter, even those without valid passports.
But for Somto and several other students, crossing the Polish border was not easy.
“I will head to Nigeria from Poland if I can cross. But if I see a school offer around Schengen, I will accept because I don’t want my school life to be disrupted,” he said as he joined the queue at the border post.