Dorcas Djabatey | Photo: Private
Dorcas Djabatey | Photo: Private

In the second part of her story, Ghanaian medical student Dorcas Djabatey, who was studying in Ukraine before the war broke out, talks about her escape from Sumy, why she feels let down and her future.

"At 3 am on February 24, I was awoken by several calls. My family back home was calling, friends, everyone was calling. Finally, I managed to pick up one of the calls and that is how I found out that Ukraine was under attack by the Russians. Until that point, I had a lovely time in Sumy.  

I remember the first day I arrived in Ukraine. It was cold, and I mean very cold. My hands were freezing. The warm clothes I brought from Accra did not help much. The first thing that shocked me about Ukraine was the number of people begging on the streets in the cold! When I first got to the country, I settled in Kyiv and studied the Russian language for six months before I got enrolled in Sumy State University when the academic year began. I enjoyed my time in Sumy. The university environment was nice, and I had friendly colleagues too. During Christmas, the snow would make the landscape white. It was beautiful.

Dorcas Djabatey celebrates her last New Years' day in Sumy | Dorcas Djabatey | Photo: Private
Dorcas Djabatey celebrates her last New Years' day in Sumy | Dorcas Djabatey | Photo: Private


While on campus, I also run for school. I competed in the 100 meters and relay. I had my last competition when I was in my second year. It was a tough contest but I'm glad I did it. Usually, on Saturdays, my friends and I would rent bicycles and go on a ride from our campus to the center of Sumy. I still remember the birthdays we celebrated at my favorite restaurant called Sazha. I took part in a photoshoot for the school magazine and my picture was selected to be the face of the university. So, I was a minor celebrity on campus.  

Dorcas Djabatey was the face of her university | Dorcas Djabatey | Photo: Private
Dorcas Djabatey was the face of her university | Dorcas Djabatey | Photo: Private


When the war started, a couple of us students thought we'd wait it out. We believed it would end soon, so we did not leave immediately. But after a week, I talked to the leadership of the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS). They advised that we go because even the Ukrainians were leaving the country at the time. The roads were dangerous. You should understand Sumy region is close to the Russian border, so it was tough for us. The NUGS leaders organized buses for us. We were required to pay some money before we got onto the bus. Every day that passed, the Ukrainian drivers wanted more money for the trip because it was getting riskier. There was a lot of uncertainty because no one knew what would happen on the road. Kyiv was under attack at the time to get to safe borders. We had to go through Kyiv. It was a very frightful time for me. I was in another man's land, caught in a war.  

Discrimination at the Ukrainian border 

We spent two days on the road. We initially wanted to go to Moldova, but then the roads were unsafe, so we were redirected to Romania. At the Romanian border, Ukrainian officials blocked us from crossing, they discriminated against us. They said they allowed only women, pregnant women and children to cross, and we told them we were also women in our group. We had been out in the open for hours; we felt stranded. When we tried to go forward, they would lock the gate.  

African students waiting with their luggages in Romania.
African students waiting with their luggages in Romania.


Meanwhile, some Ukrainians would go up to the border officials, talk to them and their wives would be allowed to cross. We got to the border crossing around 11 am but finally crossed after 4 pm. At a point, we had to fight to cross, not like a proper fight but we had to push our way through the crossing. There were people who couldn't cross. They stood outside in the cold till the following day.  

This war has taught me a lot of lessons. First, you never know what will happen in an instant, so I have to be ready for whatever happens. This was a very traumatic period in my life. Until then, I didn't have to run away from bombs, but here I was. Every time the siren went off, I had to run and seek shelter in the bunker. I kept one eye open whenever I slept because I didn't want to miss the siren.  

Looking forward to finishing her education 

This war has taught me that in this life, you will leave everything behind. We had a lot of stuff we left; clothes, shoes, and bags. When we had to flee, we left all those things. Everyone must seek God's favor in whatever they do. When I look back, I ask myself how I managed to escape that situation. It was hard then, but I've decided to move on and look on the bright side.  

Dorcas looks into the future with optimism | Dorcas Djabatey | Photo: Private
Dorcas looks into the future with optimism | Dorcas Djabatey | Photo: Private


I hope there will be another school that will understand and help me pursue this dream. I have applied to several schools. Some returned to me saying they would only accept me on the condition that I start my medical program all over. Unfortunately, others are yet to reply, so I'm waiting. Hopefully, one of the replies will be good because I have spent four years in medical school and cannot start all over.


You want to find out more about Dorcas? Explore Dorcas' escape from Ukraine to Ghana: