Iraqi Kurds stranded in Ukraine face uncertain situation amid Russian invasion 

"We can be out for [more than] a minute."
A woman and child peer out of the window of a bus as they leave Sievierodonetsk, the Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, Feb. 24, 2022. (Photo: Andreea Alexandru/AP)
A woman and child peer out of the window of a bus as they leave Sievierodonetsk, the Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, Feb. 24, 2022. (Photo: Andreea Alexandru/AP)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraqi Kurds stranded in Ukraine are taking shelter alongside Ukrainian citizens in underground metro stations and basements as Russia's intense military assault on the eastern European country continues.

Months of tensions between Russia and Ukraine culminated in an enormous combined air, sea, and land assault by the Russian armed forces on Ukraine early Thursday. Since then, intense fighting has been ongoing, including street battles in parts of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

Iraqi Kurds who went to the country to study are now stranded there amidst these destructive and violent clashes. 

Under strict government curfew, residents in Ukraine are taking shelter in metro stations and basements to protect themselves against Russian bombardments. Moscow claims its forces are only attacking military targets. 

"We cannot leave Kyiv as there is no means of transportation," Ozer Harbi, a Kurdish student of electrical engineering at Kyiv Polytechnic University, told Kurdistan 24 on Sunday. 

He heard a huge explosion as he was speaking to Kurdistan 24 from his flat in the Ukrainian capital.

The 28-year-old Kurd is anxiously waiting for an opportunity to leave the country. Nobody there knows where the next Russian air, artillery, or missile attack will be. 

With the strict curfew in place, no one can leave their homes, Harbi said. He called on the Iraqi authorities to provide them transportation and safe passage out of the country.

On Saturday, the Iraqi foreign ministry announced that it is in talks with Poland to help its stranded citizens leave Ukraine overland through Polish border crossings. 

"Money transfers have stopped, and we do not know how to pay for our rent if the conflict continues for months," the Kurdish student, originally from Erbil, told Kurdistan 24.

There are over 5,500 Iraqi citizens in Ukraine, 450 of whom are students studying in nearly 40 academic institutions throughout the country, according to official figures from Iraq's foreign ministry. 

At least 190 Ukrainians, including children, have been killed so far as a direct result of the invasion, according to Ukraine's top health authority.

As of Saturday, 150,000 Ukrainian refugees have crossed the borders into neighboring countries, including Poland, Romania, and Moldova, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

Russia's assault on the port city of Odesa in southern Ukraine forced Sebar Bani Marani to relocate to Poltava in the center of the country. 

The 33-year-old, a Kurd from Erbil, has been working in the eastern European country for a while now. 

Nechirvan Mohammad, another Kurdish student, is taking shelter in a basement in Kyiv. 

"We can be out for [more than] a minute," Mohammad told Kurdistan 24 on Friday, adding that authorities would force them back into the basements if they stayed out any longer. 

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Department of Foreign Relations advised its citizens in Ukraine to contact the Iraqi Embassy there since it does not have any diplomatic representative in the country. 

"We left Iraq to escape war... but it's the same thing in Ukraine (now)," Ali Mohammed, an Iraqi student in the western Ukrainian city of Chernivtsi, told AFP.

Report conducted by Davar Abdulla