Rwandans trapped in Ukraine seek help to leave war zones

Tuesday March 08 2022
Ukraine students pic

Some Rwandans are still trapped in Ukraine. PHOTO: FILE

By Ange Iliza

As countries move to get their citizens out of Ukraine in the middle of an escalating war, some Rwandans are still trapped in the war zones.

One of them is Mady (surname withheld), a university student who lives in Sumy, a north-eastern city 330 kilometers from the Ukraine-Poland border. Mady had plans to go to Kyiv, the capital city, when the war broke out but when she tried to flee, it was already too late.  She was asked to return back inside the house.

“Our last hope was the embassy and our university. But on Tuesday, we were told that unless we find ways to reach the border, there would be  no means for us to get help even as basics as food and toiletries. Our lives are now full of fear and uncertainty,” Mady recounts.

Mady lives with one of her friends in a basement in Sumy. There are only two Rwandans among dozens of Ukrainian neighbors. Although they all want to survive bomb attacks that occur at least twice a day, some Ukrainians near them are not welcoming. Mady says that none of the Ukrainians there “would share supplies with them.” 

Mady is in touch with her family members, fellow Rwandan students who managed to leave Ukraine, and embassy officials. She gets comfort from communicating with them even though none of them is able to provide help beyond comforting words.

On Tuesday, the Deputy Government Spokesperson said that Rwanda is only able to help those who manage to reach the border. Mady said that even if she found a way to leave her hiding place, Ukraine is getting colder every day, too cold for anyone to be outside for a long time. The only way out is by train, car, or airplane, which seems almost impossible at the moment.


Among the people, Mady is in touch with is Fred Mupenzi, a fellow student and president of the association of Rwandan Diaspora in Ukraine. Mupenzi managed to flee to Poland on February 26. Mupenzi traveled from Lviv by car halfway to he border and walked 5 hours to Medyka, where Ukraine borders Poland.

Mupenzi had been in Ukraine for four years majoring in finance and banking. Since he had to pay for his school fees, he had to work three jobs simultaneously to afford school and make a living. He was a waiter, a driver and a baker. He is now living in a hotel in Warsaw, Poland, where he says life is way more expensive.

“As a diaspora, the goal is to make a better living. It was why I had to take up all the jobs, pay for my school and be able to support my family back in Rwanda.  Now, it is uncertain if I will be able to get that life back or at least finish my studies,” Mupenzi narrates.

Mupenzi says he is spending an equivalent of Rwf50,000 per day on a hotel room and Rwf25,000 on just one meal. He says he will not be able to afford that for long.  He is looking for a way to return to Kigali. Mupenzi hopes that he, and other Rwandans in Poland, will be able to return to Kigali before the two weeks deadline that was given by Poland officials. 

For those stuck in Ukraine, he says people can only pray for them. By Tuesday, 50 Rwandans had fled to Poland, one to Hungry, and others were still finding their way to the border.