Nigerian student Collins Okoro came to Ukraine with the hopes that it would catapult his career but now the war has changed that. But could Berlin offer better opportunities? Here is his story.
➡️ This article is part of 'The Escape Diaries', a series about the personal experiences of African students who fled the war in Ukraine. Find out more about how the war changed their lives and what the future holds for them. Click here for an overview.
"I am Collins Okoro, a 20-year-old from Nigeria. I was a first-year student at the Karazin Kharkiv National University in Ukraine, studying international law. Education was very important growing up, with my parents encouraging us to complete our schooling. I have five siblings and my two older ones have completed their undergraduate degrees while one is pursuing a postgraduate degree.
I was drawn into studying international law because I thought I would be able to handle the course work and I had friends also in the field. My studies were self-funded and to achieve this, I first attended a fashion school in Nigeria where I trained to be a stylist and designer. In December last year, I won two awards at the Gahaward fashion show in Lagos, Nigeria. My other passions are modeling and I have graced various runways.
Moving to Ukraine
The thirst to be successful and make meaning of my life led me to head to Ukraine for an education in international law hoping it would be a great opportunity for my career. I arrived in December 2021 in Ukraine and was adjusting to being in a foreign country, understanding the language, meeting new people, and the freezing winter which was the complete opposite of the weather in Nigeria.
But just two months later, the war happened and changed everything. At first, the people I met who had been living in Ukraine for many years did not think it was serious and that it would all get better. Russia had previously attacked before in February 2014, so this was not new to them. Everyone was still going about their usual routine, but once the bombing started, it all felt real. Kharkiv was one of the most hit places after Kyiv and a group of other students and I left at the end of February. We travelled as a group just to be safe and had to force our way on the train after they were prioritising Ukrainians to get on board. Once we got on, we realised that there was an empty carriageway and as other Ukrainians got on the train at different spots, they kept trying to harass us so we can get off. Eventually, we got to the edge of Ukraine and had to contemplate between going to Poland or Hungary. We then went to Hungary after finding out about the human rights violations happening at the Polish border. After that the group started getting smaller as some travelled to other Europeans countries where they had either friends or family. This led me to Berlin.
An unclear future in Berlin
Arriving in Berlin from Kharkiv, a city in northeast Ukraine, was not easy. I now stay with volunteer hosts but have to move every two weeks since I do not have a permanent place. I have tried applying to universities in Berlin but the bureaucracy and language barrier makes it difficult to get opportunities.
I attended an audition in Berlin in July, organized by a film school in the United States of America. I aced the audition and got accepted with a partial scholarship, but the tuition fees were incredibly high and I had to pass on the opportunity. Even most acting schools in Berlin are privatized, making it difficult to consider going there.
There is so much that I want to accomplish in my life such as getting into an acting school, modelling, doing fashion, styling, and go back to university again for law. It might seem a lot but I like to keep busy and creative. But for now, I found a job at a retail store and I am also taking German classes to help me understand the language. The situation in Berlin is not ideal and there is a rumor that students will get deported back to their countries. But if going home was ideal, I wouldn’t be here in the first place."
You want to find out more about Collins? Explore Collins' escape from Ukraine to Germany: