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“I experienced war for the second time” – the plight of Afghans in Ukraine

Last year, some Afghans fled to Ukraine in hope of safety. Now they face war again.


1 Mar 2022

Cover image: Ukrainian military at Kabul Airport, August 2021. Photo: Facebook / Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence.

When the Taliban took Kabul last August, those who managed to flee Afghanistan and claim asylum elsewhere hoped to find sanctuary in new countries. Some Afghans found themselves starting anew in Ukraine, but have been forced to uproot their lives once more in the face of the Russian invasion.

Afghan Witness (AW) has spoken to several Afghans who were relocated to Ukraine, now facing uncertainty as the war unfolds. They tell AW of their experience fleeing one warzone, only to find themselves in another. Safia - not her real name - worked as a stewardess for a private airline company in Afghanistan. When the former Government of Afghanistan fell in August of last year, she was immediately evacuated to Kyiv, where she has lived since.

Safia thought she would start her life anew in Kyiv, not knowing that she would wake up one morning to find the city in crisis: “We woke up on Thursday [Feb 24] morning with the sound of sirens,” Safia told AW. At this moment, she says she realised there was no way for her to remain. Safia immediately packed up her belongings and left Kyiv with her friends for the Polish border. “I experienced war for the second time,” she says.

By Thursday afternoon, Safia reached the Polish border, where a long line of cars were queuing - a scene that reminded her of the chaos that unfolded at Kabul airport last year. Safia crossed the border in the early hours of Friday morning, and by 4:20 AM, she had reached Lublin, a city close to the Ukrainian border. From here, she caught a train to Warsaw, then headed on towards Germany, arriving at Berlin Central Station that afternoon. Safia says she was grateful to neighbouring countries for opening their borders.

“The city feels like a ghost town”

AW also spoke to Tamana, not her real name, a former university student in Kabul, who was rescued along with her family by the Ukrainian army during the evacuation operation seven months ago.

Tamana explains the difficulties her family face as refugees as the war broke out in Ukraine: “We did not know anyone in the city who could have helped us escape it,” she says. “The few Afghans we knew who had cars already left on the first day of the war. Now, we are stuck along with another family we know who also do not have a car.”

Tamana and her family live on the outskirts of Kyiv. When AW spoke to her on Saturday 26 February, she said that she “can still hear the sounds of bombs”.

“Markets are closed, the city feels like a ghost town, most people have left, and we are trying to survive on the food we still have in our kitchen,” Tamana adds. The family live on the 8th floor of an apartment block. If the fighting gets closer, Tamana told AW that the building has a basement where they will hide.

During the interview, Tamana becomes emotional: “We left Afghanistan to feel safe - somewhere new finally… I keep questioning when this whole chaos will end? Those who sought peace are the ones suffering the most.”

The Former Government of Afghanistan’s embassies in Warsaw and Prague have set up a helpline to help Afghan nationals escape from Ukraine. These embassies have tried to continue to operate independent of the Taliban and receive no funding from the Taliban authorities in Kabul, relying on fees from consular services.

Taliban officials have said they will try to relocate Afghan citizens and students in Ukraine to safety, but have yet to set out details.

At the time of writing, the UN says that 600,000 civilians have fled Ukraine, but the European Union (EU) estimates that up to four million people may try to leave the country because of the Russian invasion.

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