From Gaza to Ukraine and back, war haunts Palestinian students

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Samar Aita lived through three wars in the Gaza Strip before moving to Ukraine four years ago, never imagining her computer engineering studies would be interrupted by a conflict far from home.

The 21-year-old Palestinian woman is now back with her family in Rafah, a town in southern Gaza, after fleeing Kharkiv, a city in northeastern Ukraine.

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“I never expected I would go from one war into another, from bombardment to bombardment, from displacement to displacement and from refuge to refuge,” Aita said.

“Ukraine was a very calm and safe place therefore, I never expected I would be forced to escape or that my life would be in danger.”

In 2014, Aita lost several relatives when Israel bombed her neighborhood during a 50-day war with Gaza militants, scenes she and her mother recalled with the first news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Knowing your daughter is alone and you don’t know how dangerous it is there, made me tense and I couldn’t sleep for a week,” said Aita’s mother Shadia.

Israel and Gaza’s armed groups have fought four wars since 2008, including one last May, and the area remains volatile.

Aita said her life had been in danger several times during her escape from Ukraine, including her exit from Kharkiv by train when it was forced to abruptly change tracks during a bombing, turning a 12-hour trip into a 36-hour ordeal.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates said it oversaw the evacuation of 1,300 Palestinians, including 600 students, from Ukraine since the start of the invasion.

Most studied medicine, said Ahmed al-Deek, an advisor to the Palestinian foreign minister. He said the Palestinian Authority would help those who fled Ukraine to study in universities in the West Bank and Gaza instead.

In Gaza’s Nusseirat refugee camp, Rabeea Abu Rabeea said his journey from Ukraine took 11 days. In his fourth year at the Poltava State Medical University, he had aimed to become a dentist like his father.

“I see a dead-end before my eyes, and my future is uncertain,” Abu Rabeea said, adding that around 200 other students from Gaza had been evacuated but many preferred to stay in other European countries.

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