Scary , sad, overwhelming were the three adjectives that Kavaun Chambers used to describe his experience as a foreigner caught in the middle of Russia's deadly military invasion of Ukraine.
At 1:00 am on Saturday, Ukraine time (6:00 pm Friday, Jamaica time) Chambers was among 23 other Jamaican students on a train heading to Poland.
The charge level on his phone battery getting lower and lower, he told the Jamaica Observer that he kept ignoring calls to preserve what he could.
“I'm grateful for life, because I was afraid the last moment [before boarding the train] the most. We just didn't know when a bomb might drop. I was praying the whole time. Thank God we reached the train so we just need Him to help us continue further, because I cannot manage those bomb things right now. It's scary,” the VN Karazin National University student told the Jamaica Observer via WhatsApp.
“I'm still a little fearful on the train since we hear that Russian troops are all over Ukraine,” he said adding that he was thankful that the train is moving farther away from the fighting.
“The train was so hard to get into… people pushing and ignoring us too,” Chambers continued.
But that fear was nothing compared to what he experienced mere hours earlier.
“Today was scary as we waited for the train to get to Lviv, another city in the west of Ukraine, with the aim to try to get to Poland,” Chambers said, adding that the advice to get the train came from the Jamaican Embassy in Berlin, Germany.
However, he said they had missed an earlier train because “bombs started to drop” forcing them to take shelter in one of the underground Metro stations being used as bunkers.
“It was tiring to go back and forth to wait for a train in that sort of disorganisation, as everyone was trying to get out and there were no guards to help us or to tell us what to do. It was a sad experience,” Chambers added.
Friday afternoon, Information Minister Robert Morgan confirmed that the students had missed the train.
“They are now currently at the train station. They were supposed to board the train, but there was an explosion, so they are staying in the train station. We're in contact with them via WhatsApp. We have them in a group,” he told the Observer.
Meanwhile, Chambers said he had to leave a lot of his belongings behind when he and his colleagues rushed underground to safety.
“I don't even get all my stuff because we couldn't lift those heavy things at the moment. I believe all students left their stuff back in Kharkiv, and carried the most important things. Majority of my stuff are left home,” he said.
“My phone keeps ringing, but I can't answer everyone. My phone will die and I need it to communicate with the other students and the most important things have to be done. Everything can be said after. I feel overwhelmed with all the movements,” Chambers wrote.
Next to him fast asleep was the niece of Nicole Senior, who had told the Observer on Thursday that she had last spoken to the 21-year-old student that day.
When the Observer contacted Senior to tell her that her niece was a the train heading out of Ukraine, she expressed appreciation and said she had already spoken to her.
“I told her to take sleep where she can, as it is a commodity right now,” Senior shared, adding that she was very relieved as she had been uneasy all day, awaiting word that her niece was out of danger.
“I wanted to sleep and couldn't. I felt so guilty that I am safe and they weren't,” Senior said.
At 3:30 am on Friday, the concerned aunt had reached out to this reporter, asking for a contact for someone at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as she had heard that students were being denied access into Poland.
But when the Observer contacted Morgan, he said, “One of the students never had their identification papers and everybody else had theirs. We are working with that student to ensure that. But the Polish Government says that you don't need any identification papers to cross the border, so they won't have any issue.”
He commended both the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) and the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) for joining forces to assist the students.
Both parties have accumulated more than US$20,000 to get the Jamaicans to safety.
“The PM has mobilised assistance for the students in Ukraine at approximately US$11,500. He has been doing various means of assistance through his Positive Jamaica Foundation, and up to yesterday, he would've been doing the fund-raising for it. It will be channelled through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Morgan told the Observer.
“We didn't really think it was something we would put in a release, but it is very good that both the Opposition and the Government are basically working towards assisting these students,” he added.
On Friday, the PNP announced that it had established a US$10,000 fund to help the students.
In a release, party President Mark Golding explained that the money is to help with transportation, food, or other necessities, and said he has contacted Prime Minister Andrew Holness to see if the funds can also be routed through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.