The war in Ukraine has turned the lives of many African students in the country upside down. A young Nigerian student tells how she managed to escape the invasion and what she hopes for in the future.
Brenda Majekodunmi was a sophomore medical student at Vinnytsia National Medical University when Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine changed her life.
“We heard a bomb. And then my friend called me to say that they had bombed the military camp near their home,” she recalls.
Like many other African students stuck in Ukraine, the 19-year-old was forced to flee the war the same day bombs began to fall on Ukraine. After a long and arduous journey of 10 days, the Nigerian student finally made it to Germany via Poland.
One way ticket
At first things went well considering the difficult circumstances. While registering with the social welfare office in the western German city of Leverkusen, she met an elderly German doctor who agreed to be her hostess.
Not discouraged by the pain of having to leave Ukraine abruptly, she requested that her certificate be sent so that she could continue her education in Germany.
But Brenda was in for a surprise: a tangle of bureaucratic hurdles meant that she was unable to prove her studies in Ukraine to the German authorities. The dean of the university also had no understanding of their situation and refused to make any exceptions to the standard procedures, regardless of the situation.
In fact, Brenda would have to return to Ukraine to get the needed paperwork. She knew very well that she wouldn’t do that.
A bureaucratic nightmare
Undeterred, she spent her time online contacting universities in Germany, using what little paperwork she had to prove her academic standing.
“I was able to use my WAEC (West African Examinations Council) scores and bring other things to apply to universities here,” she explains, adding that her university credit book is the best type of documentation she can provide. However, it was written in Ukrainian.
“Well, they told me … that means I would have to translate it and send a photocopy of it as well,” she recalls.
After many stations, Brenda was finally admitted to study applied biology at the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences. Not only is the bachelor’s degree in English, it’s also tuition-free — but not the route she originally took.
A new way
The medical degree that Brenda started in Ukraine has been put on hold. She says she doesn’t know what’s next but remains optimistic:
“I’m a very goal-oriented person. Now I’m starting this course. No course is useless,” she told DW. “I can have three degrees if I want, or four or more, and try to learn the (German) language at the same time.”
However, Brenda’s parents in Nigeria are quite devastated that she had to start over with a non-medical degree. They had hoped that studying abroad would mean she could finish her degree sooner – not later.
“There’s nothing I can do about the whole situation at the moment,” she explains, emphasizing at the same time that she believes God has a plan for her.
Grateful for new opportunities
Perhaps her confidence in the future comes from being used to life taking unpredictable turns: Brenda never actually intended to study in Ukraine.
But when her secondary school results were released, her parents encouraged her to consider universities outside of Nigeria as she had achieved excellent grades.
“Private universities are so expensive. It was better for them to send me abroad where they have a much better education and where it’s a lot cheaper than some of these private universities that we have in Nigeria,” Brenda told DW , which led her to start her studies in Ukraine.
Only two years later she finds herself not in Nigeria, not in Ukraine, but in Germany. A major war that would interrupt her studies was not planned.
Despite this, she is grateful for the opportunity to further her education:
“I just need my bus ticket. It’s free training. I only have to pay my rent and my food, and I’ll find a job and work,” she told DW with determination.
All alone in a new country
Brenda is more used to dealing with adversity at every corner of her life. She came to a foreign country where she did not speak the language to go to university. She also had no friends or relatives there. At the age of 16, Brenda had to grow up fast.
But when war broke out in Ukraine, she felt completely overwhelmed. There is no preparation for a life changing event like this. That day she suddenly had to make her way to the city of Lviv in the west of the country, on a crowded train with everyone in a panic:
“Everything was chaotic. I arrived in Lviv in the middle of the night and heard sirens on the way,” she told DW. In Lviv, she wanted to get on a bus to Poland with a ticket that her sister, who lives in Poland, had booked for her.
However, this journey would prove to be even more traumatizing:
“I was the only black person on the bus and they just gave me this weird look. I felt really really down because I was the only one,” she said.
“I was tired, hungry, thirsty, nobody was there to talk to, nobody was there to help. So, the whole thing was really bad.”
Determined and focused
But Brenda is here to tell the story. She remains focused on the future and moving on with her life.
When asked how things will continue after her degree in applied biology in three years, Brenda says she finally wants to study medicine again – but doesn’t think that this will be possible in Ukraine.
“After three years I will master the (German) language. So I will continue my medical education in Germany.”
Edited by Sertan Sanderson