As tensions between Russia and Ukraine heightens, Nigerian students in Ukraine are currently living in fear of the possibility of being caught up in a war zone. They are unsure of the plan of the Nigerian government to evacuate them even though many other countries had weeks ago advised their citizens to leave Ukraine.
Bombs and missiles already went off yesterday in some parts of Ukraine on the orders of Russian President, Vladimir Putin who said the point of his attack which he claims is purely on military installations is to “protect people who for eight years have been suffering persecution and genocide by the Kyiv regime.”
Nairametrics spoke to some Nigerian students residing in Ukraine and they expressed uncertainty and fear of the conflict turning out into a full-blown war. Some have expressed the desire to return back home to Nigeria, but they claim they are not getting the expected support and communication from the Nigerian embassy.
Nigerian students speak…
Ukraine has emerged a choice destination for Nigerian students in the last decade. Reports claim that thousands of Nigerians are studying various courses in several universities across the country. While some graduate and return back home to Nigeria, a few others have stayed back to make a living.
Alexander Somto Orah says he has been in Ukraine since March 2021 where he is studying Management in one of the universities. He said the last time he heard from the embassy was in February 6 when they told him and other nationals to stay calm.
“I am actually calm about the situation, but I am also a little bit scared of the whole situation,” Orah said.
He stated that other Nigerian students are panicking at the moment, citing that they are currently discussing of moving towards Western Ukraine which is closer to Poland.
“We are hoping we could cross over to Poland even though we do not have active visa that allows that. I guess we are hoping Poland will allow us take shelter in their country,” he added.
Ana Nwachukwu, a 6th-year medical student who has been in Ukraine for 6 years and a few months said that there have been very minimal conversations from the Nigerian embassy in Ukraine as at early morning, Thursday.
She cited that before the invasion, the last she heard from the embassy was a January 26th statement that said the Presidential Steering Committee on Covid had reviewed protocol for those who wished to return to Nigeria in view of the current development in Ukraine
“I’m not even sure how I’m feeling. I want to come home but I can’t for now. So I’m just trying to stay strong and hopeful that the airports open soon and all of us can leave. Graduating is the least of my worries now,” Nwachukwu said.
She said everyone is scared, but nobody knows what to do. “People who were here during the last war said we should keep cash with us just in case banks and ATMs stop working. We are all just indoors,” she added.
Weyinmi Akinola, another Nigerian who has been in Ukraine for 4 years said he is in Kyiv and people are moving to cities like Lviv.
“We don’t know how safe the roads are at the moment. But schools are saying we should remain home and not ply the roads because it is dangerous. For now, we are safe. The news is saying everyone should stock up on groceries, water and supplies,” he adds.
Queen Omale has been in Ukraine for a year as a medical student, after a transfer from Bingham University, Karu Nasarawa to Sumy State University. She says that not much has been heard from the embassy as in the days leading to the invasion. “Only that we should keep calm and await further instructions.”
She said there have been signs of panic among students. While some students are handling it well, others, especially the younger ones are terrified.
“Sumy is not a big place. I doubt you can call it a city. The pace of development is slow. I guess because a lot of the older generation had a hard time letting go of socialist policies. Where we are is the northeast and we share a border with Russia. Some are asking if anyone knows where bunkers are located in the town,” Omale said.
She said not much was communicated from the embassy leading to the invasion, and that they were all given a link to fill out forms and told to stay vigilant and pray.
Victor Eldred, a student who has been in Ukraine for just 7 months said he has not been able to reach the embassy by phone or get a response to his emails. He said he was scared when he heard the bombs go off.
“I’ve never heard the sound of a bomb in my life until today (February 24). A lot of people are scared right now. You never know where the bombs will land.”
“I don’t know about others but I will find my way out. That’s how it is for now,” he says.
After completing his Master’s programme, Gbolahan Taiwo settled in Ukraine to get a job and live a better life. He has only been here two years and there is already a pending war.
“Some of us are not waiting for evacuation, because we knew the embassy wouldn’t be of help from day one,” he says
He said that the Ukrainian airspace has been closed and it has been hard to travel within cities that are closer to the borders, however, some members of the Nigerian community have already packed their bags.
“There’s panic and people are overwhelmed with how to get out,” he added.
What the Federal Government is doing…
In a statement seen by Nairametrics, the embassy urged the students who wish to relocate due to the ongoing crisis with Russia to seek proper clearance and a guarantee from their respective institutions. It added that any national that wants to temporarily relocate to anywhere considered safe by private arrangements should ensure they do all the needful to validate all their resident documents for ease of return to the country when desired.
Meanwhile, the House of Reps says it has offered to shoulder immediate evacuation of Nigerians, students in Ukraine back to Nigeria. The House Leader and the Committee on the Ministry of Foreign affairs are expected to fly to Ukraine on Friday, even though Ukraine has shut its airspace.
Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama has assured the families with loved ones in Ukraine that as soon as the airports in Ukraine are opened, the government would facilitate the evacuation of Nigerians, who are willing to leave.