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How an international student fled Ukraine — and brought 50 others: NPR

UN data shows that more than 1.5 million people have left Ukraine since the Russian military invasion. This is the story of an international student who helped 50 others escape war.


The latest UN data shows that more than 1.5 million people have left Ukraine since the Russian military invasion. We have been in contact with one of them.

HASAN ABU ZAANONA: My name is Hasan Abu Zaanona. I moved to Ukraine to continue my studies at the University of Lugansk, and now I’m leaving Ukraine, which is a bit bad.


Hasan Abu Zaanona moved to Dnipro, Ukraine in 2017, hoping to become a dermatologist. When the Russian invasion began, Hasan realized he had to leave.

ABU ZAANONA: When the war started in Ukraine, I was, like, the only one who didn’t really panic, and I was really thinking about a solution for the people around because I have some experience of war, how it will begin, how everything is happening.

MCCAMMON: Hasan is Palestinian. He grew up in the Gaza Strip, where the cycle of war between Israel and Hamas caused his family to flee. He moved to Yemen to study medicine. Then the civil war plunged this country into crisis and it fled again.

CHANG: Having to escape war for a third time, Hasan organized a bus to travel more than 700 miles to the border with Hungary for himself and 50 other international students.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We are going from Dnipro to the Hungarian border, so we have a lot of problems here. There is a very panic situation there.

CHANG: He sent us voice memos from other passengers along the way.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I had a panic attack. I’m starting to lose weight. I haven’t slept since the start of the war.

MCCAMMON: After more than 20 hours, the bus arrived safely at the border. As the students waited for a train to pass through Hungary, the mood became much more relaxed.

ABU ZAANONA: And here are people waiting for the train to Hungary. And this girl says hello to me. Salvation. It’s been a long time.

MCCAMMON: When we last heard from Hasan, he left Budapest and is now with his sister, who lives in the Netherlands. He says he’s glad to be safe and still has reason to hope.

ABU ZAANONA: I believe there is always good in people, but what we have been through now, the situation of wars all around you – bad things, bad energy. So we just have to give more to make people think there’s still a lot of good people out there, you know? That’s what gives me hope.

CHANG: But Hasan’s next steps are still unclear.

ABU ZAANONA: I don’t know after what I will do because, you know, my whole life is in Ukraine. I studied here. I did my specialty. So I don’t know what to do next.

CHANG: From his past experience, he knows that leaving Ukraine is only the beginning of his journey.


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