For Masouma Tajik, certain streets in Warsaw, the Polish capital, remind him of the last city he abandoned in a desperate journey: kyiv. “I miss her already. People made me feel very welcome and I immediately made new friends there,” she says, sitting in a cafe in Warsaw.
The young woman, a graduate of the American University of Afghanistan, was evacuated from Kabul airport last August, a few days after the takeover of the country’s main city by the Taliban. But for the second time in a few months, she was forced to flee. “I couldn’t believe this was happening again. Ukraine was a safe place for me and a good place to live until I moved on. Since then, she has been waiting for a student visa to move to the United States, where she obtained a full scholarship to a university in New Jersey to pursue a master’s degree in computer engineering. Software and data analyst.
According to the latest calculations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), after the large-scale Russian military invasion on February 24, more than three and a half million Ukrainians fled the country and two million became people displaced within the country. This is the fastest displacement crisis since the end of World War II. Thousands of international students have been forced to leave their universities and head for the border. But not all of them were immediately taken care of by the Polish authorities and faced discrimination and attacks from the country’s nationalists.
Tajik is one of the lucky few who managed to contact, via Facebook, a group of Polish volunteers who came to pick her up in Lviv, the largest Ukrainian city near the Polish border. “I was with a Ukrainian and two children. We were terrified. We left on February 26 and crossed the border on February 28. We had to wait a long time because there was a very long queue. But when I arrived in Poland, the volunteer introduced me to his family. I met his wife and children and spent three days with him before coming to Warsaw. I felt safe again.” Now he was greeted by an English professor at the University of Warsaw. “He told me I could stay as long as I needed.”
Tajik was born in Tehran, the Iranian capital, in 1999 as a refugee. In 2006, his family returned to the city of Herat, the third largest in Afghanistan, located in the west of the country. There, the young woman finished her studies and applied for a scholarship in Kabul. “It was the best time of my life. I was studying in one of the most prestigious universities, I met a lot of people and made a lot of friends from different cities and social backgrounds.
During a video call with her younger sister, who is in Herat, the young woman tries to cheer her up and give her hope. It still shakes him to think that only three weeks ago he called his family from Ukraine. When she got a scholarship to the American University in Kabul, her sister was still in school and hoped to follow in her older sister’s footsteps, but she never left Herat. “My sister is depressed. On the phone, she cries, and I try to comfort her, ”says the young woman of her nights on the phone. “He’s 18, he finished high school last year and was making plans for college. Now, with the Taliban, he has no hope of going to university. For women, it is difficult to find opportunities and to travel. They have a lot of pressure.”
Just four years ago, the Tajik, who belongs to the Hazara, a minority persecuted for decades in Afghanistan that now lives in fear under the Taliban regime, traveled alone to Kabul. “My sister no longer has the opportunities I had. I strive to help so that they can receive an education. It hurts me so much that I left them there, I have to find a way to get them out. I have three brothers and two sisters; the youngest, nine. I don’t know what will become of them, and I’m still here fighting for myself, one war after another.”
As the young woman knows from her own family’s experience, it is becoming increasingly expensive and difficult for Afghans to obtain passports and travel to other countries, such as Pakistan, which is still considered a way out if a visa is obtained. “It’s very complicated and it’s also ridiculous how the world treats us after everything we’ve been through.”
But Masouma Tadjik does not want to give up in the face of difficult times in his country and the fate of his family. “My story is not just a story of emigration. I am more than just a refugee. My favorite subject in college was statistics and data science. Previously, I worked for a company as a data analyst to understand data-driven decision-making in the field of humanitarian aid. My goal is to finish my studies and return to my country.
My comrades and I have the same intentions: we will not let go
Most of her colleagues at Kabul University are scattered across Europe and the world, but she proudly declares that her generation is different from the previous one. “My classmates and I have the same intentions: we are not going to give up. After all that has been achieved, we are going to strive to rebuild our country, Afghanistan.
In your phone’s photo gallery you will find photos of your friends and beautiful memories of Kabul and Kyiv. In Warsaw, she went to a Persian restaurant with an Afghan friend for a taste of home, but at the same time she is also upset about the current situation in Ukraine. “I am very worried about my Ukrainian friends. Every day I check them to make sure they are still safe. At the same time, I chat by mobile with my Afghan acquaintances who are in different countries. The only thing I can do is take care of my sanity, keep my brothers up and give them hope.”
You can follow PLANETA FUTURO on Twitter, Facebook and instagramand subscribe here to our ‘newsletter’.