They moved to Kherson in Ukraine to study. Now they live under Russian occupation.

The students told CNN they spend most of their time in underground bunkers in the freezing cold as Russian soldiers prevent anyone from entering or leaving Kherson.

Many students fear the repercussions of their statements in the media and ask CNN not to reveal their full names for fear of their safety.

“We are living in a nightmare. We don’t live, we survive,” Christophe, a freshman from Cameroon who lives in Kherson, told CNN. “The only hope… right now is when you sleep, if you can sleep. It is the hope that tomorrow someone will tell you that you are being evacuated.”

He added: “We are students. We came here to study. We didn’t come here for this. And now, you see, most of your friends who lived in other cities have left. They are not in that situation. You can imagine our families call us every day, like, “Please tell me there’s something new. What am I going to tell them?”

The 23-year-old man said that the Cameroonian embassy in Ukraine did not respond to him, although he applied. After attempts by others in Europe, the only embassy that answered his call for help was the embassy in Germany.

“They said we heard about you. We’re working on it, that’s all.” He says he hasn’t heard from the embassy since.

“We are not asking for anything special. We are asking for help,” he said.
The Cameroonian embassy in Germany told CNN in an email that they are working to get the students out of Kherson, “but it’s very difficult at the moment.”

Christoph and some of his fellow students have also publicly asked for help in videos on Twitter.

Routes from Kherson are dangerous and difficult. Nigerian citizen Akiniemi studied in Ukraine. He now lives in Tyaginka, a small village less than an hour from Kherson, and works as a sailor.

He remembers those who tried to flee the city, turning back at the sight of Russian military equipment.

Despite the risk, some students tried to escape, but without much success.

“We formed a group and noticed that practically everyone is still here. So far, only one guy I know has managed to get away. The other students didn’t leave. Almost 100% is still here,” Akiniemi told CNN.

The recent graduate has lived in Ukraine since 2016 and describes a horrifying life in the shadow of a brutal Russian military presence. “[Russia] moves his military equipment almost every day. There are many checkpoints where soldiers stand,” he said.

“The Russian military in this village told us that you can tie something white around your left arm and go wherever you want, but only with a passport,” he said.

“The stores are dry. We have already bought everything … and [are] use firewood for cooking,” Akiniemi said.

“The experience is traumatic. Even from the sound of the door, I think it’s the sound of a gunshot or something like that,” he said. “[In the bunker]there is no internet, so there is no way to stay in touch with our families at home without them worrying.”

Akiniemi believes that the solution for students stuck in Kherson and its environs is simple: “We need all possible means to create a green corridor for the Kherson region, as they did with Sumy.” Between March 8 and 10, all civilians in the northeastern city of Sumy were able to escape along the evacuation corridors.

Students like Akiniemi and Kristof want Ukrainian and African government officials to hold similar talks for the safe exit of all civilians from Kherson.

Nigeria has already evacuated more than 1,500 students from Ukraine. according to the Commission of Nigerians in the Diasporafederal government agency.
Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyama This is stated in a tweet on March 13. that he has been in contact with his country’s ambassadors to Ukraine and Russia as they are “engaging the governments of Russia and India, as well as NGOs, in an attempt to safely evacuate some 80 Nigerian maritime students in Kherson, in southern Ukraine.” India also has a large number of students in Ukraine and is evacuating its citizens.
Oneama also wrote what he said on the phone with a Nigerian student leader in Kherson “to assure him of a positive development.”

Desperate to find a way out

Hyacinth, a master’s student from Côte d’Ivoire, says he was playing basketball in the street when he first saw the Russian military enter Kherson on February 24.

“We heard people start running and we heard gunfire,” he told CNN by phone.

Hyacinth made desperate attempts to leave the city, but found that there were no trains, buses, or taxis, as the city was surrounded.

According to him, taxi drivers who endured the trip demanded up to 500 euros per person. High price for students.

“We called several taxis and they said they could come and pick us up. [up] but it was very expensive. Each of us would pay 500 euros per person. We don’t have this money. Until today, we just call, trying to find a way to get out of Kherson.”

Hyacinth told CNN that just the day before, several Egyptian and Lebanese students had paid a sum each to take a taxi from Kherson via Crimea in hopes of reaching Russia.

Their progress is unknown. Some students even tried to get out of the city on foot.

“When they arrived at the border of Kherson, they were met by the Russian army. They told them that without a special agreement we cannot allow you to leave the city,” he said.

'Help us, we're in a quandary again': International students say they're trapped in northeast Ukraine

The 29-year-old said he knew about 60 other foreign students still in Kherson from countries such as Nigeria, Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Tunisia.

He has lived in Ukraine for four years and says the country is popular with students because of the affordable university tuition fees.

During the Russian occupation, Kherson residents report seeing armed Russian men going from house to house checking passports and asking for phone numbers of guests amid growing protests.

Hyacinth describes the resilience he saw among Ukrainians in Kherson: “If they meet Russian troops, they start shouting and protesting: ‘This is Ukraine!’,” he said.

On Sunday, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets, waving Ukrainian flags and chanting anti-Russian slogans.

“They always shoot”

In Kherson, the sounds of helicopters and shooting have become familiar. “Outside, it’s like no man’s land. It’s very quiet here and everyone is scared. We have to move very fast because we don’t know when [fighting] – It will start, – said Hyacinth, – they always shoot, every day, every night – especially at night. Two days ago we were without electricity, internet and networks,” he added.

“Right now we need a diplomatic car to pick us up without any risk. We are afraid because they say it is not safe,” Hyacinth said.

These international students in Kherson are said to support each other by sharing everything they have. “We always share our stuff, that’s the African mentality. If anyone has something like bread, eggs or butter, let’s have an omelet and eat together,” Hyacinth said.

“We are brothers, no matter where you are from or what country. That’s how we survive here.”

This article has been updated to include a response from the Cameroonian embassy in Germany.