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Mercer alumni help African college students flee Ukraine

They teamed up with other volunteers and organizations to raise more than $125,000 providing students with humanitarian aid as well as essential resources.

MACON, Ga. — Two Mercer alumni are trying to help in the Ukraine crisis by getting African college students safely out of the war-torn country.

Macire Aribot and Nassim Ashford founded NoirUnited International, a non-governmental organization. Their focus is to help marginalized people by creating development solutions for their countries.

"Many of the students are on the verge of homelessness if they don't get any kind of support," Aribot said. 

Aribot and Ashford met a group of students stuck in Kherson, Ukraine. The Russian military took over that area early on in the war.

"These students were living in bunkers for about a month, and we were talking to them every single day," Aribot said. 

The pair teamed up with other volunteers and organizations to raise more than $125,000 to provide students with humanitarian aid as well as essential resources.

They help students with transportation, housing, direct money, food and water.

"No one is focusing on the marginalized people within an issue. It just creates a problem where it's almost a hierarchy of status where people feel like 'my life doesn't matter,'" Ashford said.

Aribot says many of the students had difficult experiences when trying to evacuate. Students were pulled off trains and buses, and had to walk long hours in freezing cold weather. Ashford says a story that stuck with him the most came out of Kherson.

"They had to go to 20 different checkpoints, both Russian and Ukrainian checkpoints, getting their documents looked at, their bags checked. I even heard some stories where students had to strip down naked to make sure they didn't have anything on them," Ashford said. 

They were able to get out more than 40 students who are now in safer countries across Europe.

"If we were international students in another country and our parents sent us here to study and a war happened and we weren't getting any kind of support and we were getting mistreated, how would we feel?" Aribot said.

Aribot says right now they are prioritizing getting students into the United States so they can finish out school. They created a partnership with Mercer University, which agreed to start accepting students.

The two say right now these students are still very vulnerable. Many of them are either in refugee camps or shelters. 

To donate to NoirUnited’s work with refugees, go to noirunited.org/ukraine.

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