In the years leading up to the Russian invasion, Poland had taken a hard line on migrants trying to enter the country. The army and border guards have pushed asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa back into Belarus. Last week, aid organizations said a 26-year-old man from Yemen froze to death at that border.
Some of the foreigners arriving in Poland from Ukraine over the past few days were exhausted and freezing, according to local aid organizations on the ground. Some were taken directly to hospitals because of their injuries.
Understand Russia’s Attack on Ukraine
What is at the root of this invasion? Russia considers Ukraine within its natural sphere of influence, and it has grown unnerved at Ukraine’s closeness with the West and the prospect that the country might join NATO or the European Union. While Ukraine is part of neither, it receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
Are these tensions just starting now? Antagonism between the two nations has been simmering since 2014, when the Russian military crossed into Ukrainian territory, after an uprising in Ukraine replaced their Russia-friendly president with a pro-Western government. Then, Russia annexed Crimea and inspired a separatist movement in the east. A cease-fire was negotiated in 2015, but fighting has continued.
How has Ukraine responded? On Feb. 23, Ukraine declared a 30-day state of emergency as cyberattacks knocked out government institutions. Following the beginning of the attacks, Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, declared martial law. The foreign minister called the attacks “a full-scale invasion” and called on the world to “stop Putin.”
Ahmed Habboubi, a 22-year-old French-Tunisian medical student, said all foreign nationals, including Africans, Israelis, Canadians and Americans, were told to go to one gate at the Medyka crossing from Ukraine to Poland, which would only process four people every couple of hours, while Ukrainians were allowed to pass freely through another gate.
“The Ukrainian army beat me up so much I couldn’t properly walk,” he said in an phone interview. “When I finally managed to enter Poland, the Polish authorities took me straight to the hospital,” he added.
“It was absolute chaos. We were treated like animals. There are still thousands of people stranded there.”
He said that Poland had welcomed him warmly.
Dennis Nana Appiah Nkansah, a Ghanaian medical student, said he saw the same discrimination at the crossing from Ukraine into the Romanian town of Siret — one rule for Ukrainians and another for everyone else. Thousands of foreigners, including Zambians, Namibians, Moroccans, Indians and Pakistanis, were directed to one gate that was mostly closed, while another reserved for Ukrainians was open and people flowed through.
Over about three hours, four or five foreigners were allowed to leave, while there was a “massive influx” of Ukrainians crossing, he said. “It’s not fair,” he said, but “we understood that they have to see to their people first.”