Student now safe with family in Manitoba ‘can finally breathe’ after escaping war in Ukraine

A student who fled Ukraine following the start of Russia’s invasion is relieved to now be in Manitoba with her family.

“I can finally breathe,” said Favour Iwaola, 19, in an interview with CBC News on Saturday. 

Iwaola was in her third year of studying at the medical university in the Ukrainian city of Vinnitsa, about 200 kilometres southwest of Kyiv.

She said she decided to flee the country last weekend, after the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, and is now staying with her brother in Gilbert Plains, in southwest Manitoba.  

“I had to leave,” said Iwaola. “The situation was getting tense. My parents were worried.”

The UN’s migration agency says 1.45 million people have now fled Ukraine since Russia launched its attack.

Iwaola made the decision to leave Ukraine last Saturday, and started an hours-long journey out of the country with some friends and a group of others the next day.

They travelled by bus to Romania, where they were able to cross the border. 

Iwaola, who is originally from Nigeria, said she didn’t experience discrimination, but heard from other students who had. There have been other reports of international students facing issues while trying to flee Ukraine.

The African Communities of Manitoba Inc. called earlier this week for the African Union, the government of Canada, the European Union and the United Nations to investigate those reports and guarantee safe passage to everyone trying to escape Ukraine. 

Iwaola says after reaching Romania, she flew to Germany, then Toronto and finally to Winnipeg, where she arrived Thursday night. 

She said before Russia’s invasion, she knew there was tension, but didn’t expect a war.

“That country is a very beautiful country,” she said. “Seeing the cities being destroyed is heartbreaking.” 

Looking back at what she’s been through over the last week, Iwaola said the situation was overwhelming, but was made bearable by the people around her, with whom she developed bonds while studying in Ukraine. 

“We’re like, ‘OK, we’re in it together,'” she said. 

Now in Manitoba, Iwaola is going to take a couple of weeks to watch how the situation develops. She isn’t sure what will happen with her studies or if she’ll be able to return to Ukraine. 

Her brother is encouraging her to apply to finish university in Manitoba, something she said is an option.