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Afghans in Ukraine Find Themselves Fleeing Another War

An Afghan family, who once fled the war in Afghanistan, wait to board a bus bound for a refugee center, after fleeing the Russian invasion in Ukraine, in Medyka, Poland, Feb. 28, 2022.

Hundreds of Afghans who fled war in their own country in recent years are now stranded in Ukraine, where many are attempting to escape.

Rana Alwat, her husband and son left Odessa and boarded a train to flee the country. After taking a bus and waiting in long queues on the Polish border, the family arrived Monday.

"My 3-year-old son was so terrified of the bombs exploding, I told him it was just balloons popping," she told VOA.

Six years ago, the 26-year-old migrated to Odessa, Ukraine, in search of a better future and had been teaching at an Odessa-based Afghan refugee school.

"This is a very bad feeling. I came here with dreams and wished to study and pursue higher education. I am facing the same misfortune; I am very scared for my family and now must resettle again."

Ukrainian migration data indicates at the end of 2020, there were some 1,449 Afghans with permanent residency in the country and more than 200 with temporary visas. But many Afghans like Sanaullah Tasmim arrived after the Taliban took control of Kabul in August.

Afghans trying to flee Ukraine sleep inside Lviv railway station, in Lviv, west Ukraine, Feb. 28, 2022.
Afghans trying to flee Ukraine sleep inside Lviv railway station, in Lviv, west Ukraine, Feb. 28, 2022.

The 20-year-old left Afghanistan six months ago to finish his medical studies in Moscow. However, because Afghanistan's government collapsed and his scholarship was no longer valid, he was unable to begin his studies and was forced to travel to Ukraine to work and earn money to finish his higher education on his own.

He told VOA, "I escaped war and came all the way here to study and make a better future but yet got stuck in another war."

On February 24, Poland's Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski told the media that nine reception centers will be set up along the country's 535-kilometer (332-mile) border with Ukraine to receive the incoming refugees.

Tasmim said he arrived in Poland on Monday.

"I lost everything on my way here, my phone, my money, and my luggage. However, I am very happy to be in a safer place now."

Sabur Shah Dawoodzai, an Afghan refugee who arrived in Poland six months ago, is now collecting food and clothing for incoming Ukrainian refugees. He told VOA over the phone that he understands their anguish.

"Seeing the footage of Ukrainians taking shelter at subway stations reminds me of the six months earlier situations of Afghans including me at the Kabul airport during the collapse," Dawoodzai said. "It does bring tears to my eyes. No one can feel the situation of Ukrainians more than us."

Jawed Haqmal, a translator for the Canadians in Afghanistan's Kandahar province, was among those evacuated by Ukrainian special forces.

Haqmal, his wife, and their four children have been attempting to flee the fighting by crossing into Poland.

"We are on our way, trying to get to Poland. I never thought I will find myself in the middle of another war. I wish my children did not witness another disaster. They are traumatized," Haqmal said.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, more than 520,000 people have fled Ukraine so far, with the agency estimating that number could reach 4 million in the coming weeks.

This story originated from VOA's Deewa service.