Afghan refugee in Ukraine flees second conflict in six months

Masouma Tajik is trying to leave Ukraine after escaping the Taliban last year

Masouma Tajik celebrated her birthday the day before the Russian invasion began. Photo: Masouma Tajik

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It was Masouma Tajik’s birthday on Wednesday. The Afghan refugee spent the day alone, wandering the streets of Lviv, trying to make it the best day she could in her new home.

“I got a small cake, and made a wish for a home, a place where I can put up my bookshelf and grow my plants,” said Ms Tajik, who fled Afghanistan's Herat to escape the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August last year.

“I was happy yesterday and this morning I woke up to bomb sirens,” she said.

Ms Tajik one of 94 Afghans brought to Ukraine during the chaotic evacuation that followed the withdrawal of the US troops. Now, a mere six months later, she is facing another conflict in her host country.

Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Thursday, days after recognising the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as independent territories.

Over the past 48-hours, Russian troops have captured several key territories in Ukraine while launching co-ordinated air strikes and ground attacks on the capital.

The strikes and ground invasion have caused thousands to flee. Ms Tajik joined thousands of Ukrainians, in disbelief over the escalating violence, and moved from Kiev to the western city of Lviv, with the hopes of escaping yet another war.

“I didn’t think it would happen so fast here,” she said. “This is Europe.”

She added that the environment in the city bore a striking similarity to the Taliban siege of Kabul.

“The city changed overnight, just like Kabul on the night before the Taliban came. Everywhere there is a silence and fear. I went to withdraw money today but there is no cash in banks, just like in Kabul on August 15,” she said.

As a young working professional from the persecuted Hazara ethnicity, Ms Tajik faced immense pressure when the Taliban took over Afghanistan.

“I am the only breadwinner of my family. When I heard they were coming, I knew they would restrict my freedoms and rights, they wouldn’t let me work or even leave the house. I was worried of how I would continue to work or support my family, and if they hurt me, who would take care of my siblings?”

Ms Tajik has continued to worked remotely since leaving Afghanistan and still supports her family.

“I wanted to survive because seven other lives depend on my survival,” she said.

As the bombings continue, the young Afghan in exile is now looking for safe passage once more.

“I escaped Herat when the Taliban took over and came to Kabul. I thought I was safe there. But then they came to Kabul, and I had to leave and came to Kiev. Then I had to leave Kiev and came to Lviv because things seemed to be getting worse. And now I am looking for ways to leave here too,” she said.

But Ms Tajik is determined to not give up.

“I have worked so hard to be who I am. I want to study further. I have already been accepted to universities in the US with full scholarship. Things will improve, it can’t end all in nothing,” she said optimistically, sharing her plans to move to the borders of Ukraine to seek help from neighbouring nations.

“All of us girls who have seen war, we don’t want much. Just an opportunity to make our place in this world. That’s not a lot to ask.”

Updated: February 26, 2022, 4:10 AM