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How one international student fled Ukraine — and brought along 50 others


The latest U.N. data show over 1.5 million people have left Ukraine since the Russian military invaded. We've been in touch with one of them.

HASAN ABU ZAANONA: My name is Hasan Abu Zaanona. I moved to Ukraine to continue my studies in Lugansk University, and now I'm going out of Ukraine, which is bad a little bit.


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

ABU ZAANONA: When the war started in Ukraine, I was, like, the only one that really not panicking, and I was really thinking for solution for people around because I have some experience about the war, how it will start, how everything is happening.

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

CHANG: Having to escape war a third time, Hasan organized for a bus to drive over 700 miles to the border with Hungary for him and 50 other international students.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We're going from the Dnipro to Hungary border, so we are facing a lot of problems here. There's a very panic situation there.

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

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I had panic attack. I'm beginning to losing weight. I didn't sleep since the war began.

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

ABU ZAANONA: And here is people waiting for the train to Hungary. And this girl's saying hi to me. Hi. It's been a while.

MCCAMMON: Last we 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 that he still has cause for hope.

ABU ZAANONA: I believe that always there is good in people, but what we lived now, the situation of wars all around you - bad things, bad energy. So we need just to give more to make people believe that there is still a lot of good people around, you know? That's what gives me hope.

CHANG: But Hasan's next steps still remain unclear.

ABU ZAANONA: I don't know after what I will do because, you know, like, all my life is in Ukraine. I've studied here. I've done my specialty. So I don't know what to do after.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIOHEAD SONG, "DAYDREAMING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.