When the first rocket landed close to his home, Akin (name changed) knew he had to escape Ukraine before he was unable to. The Russian invasion had begun and his life was about to change.
After years of medical training and finally completing his first internship as a doctor in Tanzania, Akin returned to his home in Ukraine ready to look for a full-time role as a doctor. Nigerian born, Akin had lived in the city for many years, gaining his permanent residency and getting married, he thought he was about to settle down. He had had quite the year with passing his final exams, writing his final papers, completing his internship and sadly losing his father to cancer. He was ready to begin his new life.
There were already some news stories going around about Putin planning an invasion, but the mood in Ukraine was that of confidence, thinking it was just media spin. “The Russians are our brothers, they won’t attack us” they thought. Until they did.
Zaporizhzhia was one of the first cities attacked, and the rockets came down quickly. In almost no time, nothing was safe, the alarms were going off and the city was covered in armed soldiers. Many of which were just civilians and included his own neighbours.
“The alarms were horrible. When they went off it was such a huge noise and you knew attacks were coming. The whole situation was horrific. I don’t have enough words to be able to denounce it. Killing other humans is the worst thing you can ever do. Ukraine is our home, it’s peaceful, it’s beautiful.”
Akin knew at this point he had to leave. He had a son from a previous relationship and wanted to make sure they were safe. A friend of his was packing a car to head for Lviv and try to get across the Polish border. He knew this was the opportunity, however, his wife didn’t want to leave. She chose to stay and fight for her country. It was an incredibly painful decision, but the couple went their separate ways, not knowing when they would see each other next.
Days later, nervous and scared, Akin was at the border in the longest queue he had ever seen. Five days they waited in that queue. No shower, no supplies, just relying on people who were giving out basic food and tea to those waiting. “The whole day you look through the car in front and see it’s moving or not. We sometimes had to wake the driver in front to make him move.”
The situation was even worse for those on foot.
“[They] had less chance to get through. More checks … it was very cold, people slept outside. I’m sure some people died.”
His son had made it safely to Spain with his mother and Akin was relieved to hear that he was ok. For Akin, he was staying with his friend’s relatives in Poland, but being Nigerian born, he realised that many in Poland were not used to seeing different ethnicities and he got a lot of looks and comments from the public. He didn’t feel comfortable and made the choice to leave.
After deciding to travel to Luxembourg, Akin was hoping for a place to settle more permanently. He wanted to contribute, give back, help others. However, on arrival he found that not many spoke English nor any other languages he spoke and quickly he began to struggle. He was keeping up with the news whilst travelling and saw the UK schemes offering support. With an uncle living in the UK and having recently attended a medical conference there, so having a current visa it seemed the ideal chance. He contacted his uncle who agreed he could stay with him. He even checked with the UK Home Office that he would be ok to enter as his current visa expired soon and they confirmed this. A huge surge of relief came over him as he knew finally he would be able to find a place to settle.
“I did not want to abuse tax payers’ money that people work hard to contribute. I didn’t want to arrive somewhere just to take, I want to contribute.”
Since arriving in the UK in March 2022, Akin has managed to get a place of his own, started volunteering and build his own life.
“It’s been amazing, it makes me feel responsible. Getting back to normal vibes even though it’s not full-time work. I am doing something for other people.”
Akin is also keeping up with his medical studies and wants to take more professional exams and keep up-to-date. He aspires to volunteer in hospitals and hopefully get back to working in them.
This story is similar to so many others at this time and he is very aware of the devastation the war has caused across the world. “This is not just about Ukrainians, it’s about the whole world. In the UK, bills have gone up, people are struggling and they are still trying to show solidarity. We should all be welcoming to migrants and those in need, affected by wars. It impacts us all.” But he added that those offering hospitality also need support.
“Sometimes you get British people welcoming Ukrainians who are doing it because they want to help, but some may not always get all the support they need. The system needs to make sure there is assistance for those hosting new arrivals. They get some money, but they need further support.”
Akin continues to volunteer, helping those who are trying to settle in the UK through volunteering at the Refugee and Migrant Centre. He does all this while trying to settle himself and build his own life in the UK. He can now settle and plan for the future. A future he hopes with his family, as a doctor, helping others and giving back to society.
Volunteers Week takes place every year and is a chance for organisations to celebrate the work volunteers do. For many years, RMC have taken part, but we do our best to ensure volunteers are recognised throughout the year also. Our volunteer and training manager Claire is always on hand to support, celebrate and showcase the amazing things the volunteer team achieve.