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Russia-Ukraine war: Operational hitches delay evacuation of stranded Nigerians

The planned evacuation of stranded Nigerians who fled to neighbouring countries in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war suffered delay yesterday owing to operational hitches…

The planned evacuation of stranded Nigerians who fled to neighbouring countries in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war suffered delay yesterday owing to operational hitches encountered by the airlines engaged, Daily Trust’s findings reveal.

The evacuation was earlier scheduled to commence Thursday.

The delay has heightened the anxiety of parents and relatives of Nigerians living in the East European country, especially those whose children are studying there.

A senior government official claimed that the refusal of some Nigerians to return home led to the delay.

Daily Trust had reported that about 12,000 students were among the many Nigerians currently stranded in the wake of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

President Muhammadu Buhari had approved $8.5 million to evacuate at least 5,000 stranded Nigerians.The Federal Government had contracted two major Nigerian carriers: Max Air and Air Peace to carry out the evacuation exercise.

They were scheduled to leave Nigeria in the early hours of Thursday to Bucharest, the Romanian Capital, for Max Air and Warsaw, Poland, for Air Peace.

Although no official reason was given, sources in the aviation industry told Daily Trust that while Max Air left Nigeria for Romania around noon yesterday, the Air Peace flight was stalled due to “operational hitches.”

It was learnt that the Max Air flight landed in Bucharest, the Romanian capital.

The flight VM601, operated with the airline’s Boeing 747-400 wide-bodied aircraft with registration 5N-HMM, was said to have landed at Henri Coandă International Airport, Bucharest at 7:45 local time (6:45 p.m. Nigerian time).

The aircraft is expected to evacuate 560 Nigerians to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, in the early hours today depending on the logistics arrangement in the country.

It was not clear when the flight would depart Bucharest to Abuja yesterday because of immigration protocols in Romania, but a source said: “If the passengers have gone through the proper screening and are ready for airlift, the aircraft will leave immediately, but I can’t really say when the flight will depart Bucharest.”

Daily Trust reports that the time for a direct flight from Bucharest to Abuja is approximately six hours, 30 minutes.

Another source said the Max Air flight was delayed owing to paperwork and other operational issues, including fueling.

“Immediately we were able to sort out all this, the flight left Abuja and it has now landed in Bucharest,” the source said.

It was also learnt that the Air Peace flight to be operated with its Boeing 777-300 earlier scheduled to depart in the early hours of Thursday was stalled owing to “operational reasons.”

A source confided in our reporter that the flight could not depart because of “crew rest”; while the flight has been rescheduled to depart Nigeria today.

In line with Aviation Standard and Recommended Practices, flight attendants are expected to have about nine hours of rest.

“The flight will now leave for Warsaw tomorrow (today)”, an official of the airline said.

Ambassador Bolaji Akinremi, who is leading the delegation for the evacuation, explained in Poland yesterday that the flight scheduled to evacuate Nigerians from Poland to Abuja was cancelled because the crew said they had gone beyond their duty limit.

“Reality is that the flight has been scheduled for tomorrow (Friday) morning.

“The real reason is because of the delay in doing the checking-in because they’ve to gather them (passengers) together from different hotels, and by the time we would be ready after the checking-in, the crew that has been waiting since 9 am had overshot the hour they should have waited.

“They have a duty hour which has been allocated to them and they’ve waited from 9 till 2 pm. That means they’ve already waited five hours and they’re going to have a 9 hours flight that is already more than the standard.  So, the airport authority said they won’t allow us to board. This is the reality.”

He said all the Nigerian evacuees stayed in the same hotel and would leave today.

The Ambassador of Nigeria to Poland, Christian Ugwu, said it was not easy to gather the stranded citizens, but assured that by today, the flight would take off.

It would be recalled that the Federal Government through the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had waived pre-departure COVID-19 protocols for Nigerian returnees from Ukraine to facilitate the evacuation process.

The Director-General of the NCAA, Musa Nuhu, who disclosed this in an All Operators’ Letter (DG/04/22) directed to all airlines operating to Nigeria, said: “In view of the ongoing hostilities in Ukraine, the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID19 has directed that airlines board passengers travelling to Nigeria with proof of having left Ukraine.

Approved was a waiver from the 48-hour pre-departure COVID-19 PCR test requirement and waiver from the requirement to pre-departure filling of the Nigerian International Travel Portal (NITP), payment for a repeat test in Nigeria and generation of Permit to Fly/QR code.

The letter added: “Upon arriving in Nigeria, passengers will be directed by the Port Health Services to designated government laboratories for COVID-19 PCR test. The COVID-19 PCR test which must be done within 24 hours of arrival will be at no cost to the passenger.”

Delay heightens parents’ anxiety

Daily Trust reports that there is heightened tension among Nigerians, especially parents whose children are studying in Ukraine.

One of the parents, who spoke to Daily Trust, expressed dissatisfaction with the way the Nigerian government is responding to the fate of Nigerians stranded in Ukraine.

“I expected that by now. those that are trapped in the crisis would have been evacuated back home by the Nigerian government. When the war broke out, they promised to evacuate trapped citizens, but they are not doing anything.

“I have four children who are currently trapped in the city of Summy in Ukraine. I feel weak and I am praying God to give us (parents) the mind to overcome this situation. Let the government keep to its words and do the needful,” said the parent who wouldn’t want to be named.


‘Citizens’ refusal to return responsible’

A senior government official told Daily Trust that the refusal of some Nigerians to return to the country delayed the evacuation.

The official, who pleaded anonymity, said: “The reluctance of some of the evacuees to return home made the trip impossible. The airline got only half of the passengers that can fill the entire plane. There was an arrangement to bring back those who agreed to return, but the airline refused to fly a half-filled plane.

“Thankfully, the issue has been resolved and more of the evacuees have been convinced to return home. The flight should be on its way back home on Friday. Those who have agreed will be profiled ahead of the journey back home.”

From Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos), Fidelis Mac-Leva, Maureen Onochie &  Hamisu K. Matazu (Abuja)

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