February 27, 2024

A Ugandan living in Ukraine narrates ordeal trying to escape amid missile blasts


The Kiwinda family before the Ukraine invasion happened

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On 24th February last week, explosions were heard early in Kharkhiv – Ukraine’s second largest city near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, with Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenskyy saying Russia had conducted strikes on military infrastructure and on border guards in the Donbas region.


Godwin Kiwinda is a Ugandan-Kenyan living and working in Ukraine; he has been living and working in Kharkiv, in Ukraine. He is married here, and has two children. 

It was on the 24th February when Godwin Kiwinda and his wife were at home, when the first blast went off. It was very close to their home.

Godwin and his neighbours had heard of media reports on the invasion but did not believe Russia would  follow through until the first blast.

‘When you hear the sound of a missile attack, you’ll never forget it. I had never expected that kind of violence from Russia,’ Godwin adds.

Godwin says almost every person in Ukraine has a family in Russia and therefore he was shocked to learn that despite all warnings, Russia attacked Ukraine. ‘My wife’s mother is in Russia, my neighbours relatives are all in Russia, we were all left in shock, Godwin adds.

Godwin says, him, the wife and most Ukrainians are deprived of sleep. He adds that they haven’t slept since the first blast went off.

From the time Godwin and the wife heard of the first blast, they decided to go to the bunker just below their house, this was on Wednesday night. But they could hear the blasts getting closer and closer until they decided to run for their lives.


Godwin and the wife decided to move to Lviv, which took them 25 hours. ‘It was not easy getting onto a train because I am black. Ukrainian women and children were  given priority, and then Ukrainian men.’

Godwin and the wife finally made it to Lviv, the border city and then were lucky to get a taxi. They were in company of other Kenyans, Tanzanians, and a few other Ugandans.  They all boarded two (2) taxis which drove to the last point which is 32 kilometres to the border with Poland. They had to stop here because beyond that point, cars are not allowed.


Godwin and the wife now had to walk in snow for 32 kilometres to the border with Poland. ‘It was so cold, more than ever, we were hungry and tired and had not had any sleep at all, it is hell,’ Godwin says.

They reached the border point at about 1:00am in the morning, this is where they found Ukrainians volunteers who offered them water, fruits, hot tea. 

Godwin and the wife were able cross finally, but without their children. One of their sons is in the under 19 football academy and he had gone to do some football practice at a club academy in Kyiv, the capital when the first blasts went off on 24th February. He was unable to return home because it is quite a distance.

By the time his parents crossed over, it became increasingly difficult to evacuate him. He kept calling on his football agents to help evacuate him, but this was so difficult because ‘missile attacks, airstrikes and gunshots were everywhere.’

Godwin’s other son,  was able to cross over to the UK and find his grandmother, Godwin’s mother. Therefore Godwin and the wife made the whole journey just the two of them.

‘We stayed here at the border for about 13 hours in snow. Priority was given to Ukrainian women and children, Ukrainian men above 60 years, then African women and children were allowed to cross to Poland and then African men,’ Godwin says.

There were about 3 buses ferrying refugees who were running from Ukraine seeking to enter Poland. ‘One bus takes about 3 hours, until the next bus comes in. In a spot where 6 people sit, about 25 people were occupying the same spot,’ Godwin describes the situation in the bus.

But from the time they entered, Godwin, the wife and other refugees were given food like burgers, warm blankets, hot tea. ‘Inside Poland, they treated us so well. They’ve helped us,’ Godwin says in a smiling tone.


Godwin and the wife are now staying at a hotel inside Poland. The hotel bills are being paid by one of their friend who is Polish. Bu their hearts aren’t settled, because one of their sons is still trapped inside Ukraine.  ‘’My heart won’t rest until I see my son,’ Godwin says as he almost breaks into tears.

Fortunately, a friend of Godwin’s family was able to pick Godwin’s son from the football club academy and they are now trying to move to the border with hopes of crossing to Poland.

‘Our friend is a woman, our hope is that she will be given priority to cross to Poland,’ Godwin tells us.


We asked Godwin is he was able to contact the Ugandans Embassy in Moscow but he says the embassy has not been helpful. Uganda’s embassy in Moscow – Russian’s capital is also in charge of Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. The embassy last week on Friday released a statement to Ugandans in Ukraine, to check in with the embassy.

Godwin says they have now resorted to creating a WhatsApp group for all Africans stuck in Ukraine to help each other. ‘’We now communicate through Whatsapp groups. In this group, we have Kenyans, Tanzanians, Congolese, Cameroonians and many other Africans. We only have strength in numbers. We have to keep in touch, we are not even sure, some Ukrainians can turn against you,’ Godwins tells us.

Godwin says many Ugandans are still stuck in Ukraine and the embassy is silent even though on 25th February, Uganda’s Ministry of foreign Affairs said government was ready to evacuate any Ugandans trapped in Ukraine.

United Nations (UN) indicated on Thursday, that more than 1 million people had fled Ukraine, majority entering Poland.



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