About 12,000 students are reportedly among the many Nigerians currently stranded in the wake of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, Daily Trust findings show.
Following the attack by Russian forces on major Ukrainian cities on Thursday morning, many Nigerian students and some parents, businessmen and professionals in Ukraine have expressed worry over the fate of citizens living in the troubled country.
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The Nigerian government said it has arranged a special evacuation flight for Nigerians in Ukraine but could not say the exact number of its citizens living in the Eastern European country.
However, a statement issued on Thursday by the Country Representative of Ukrainian universities in Nigeria, Dr Cliff Ogbeide, said over 12,000 Nigerians are currently studying in Ukrainian universities.
This was corroborated by Jibrin Chinade, a former Nigerian Ambassador to Ukraine during an interview with Trust TV.
“It is instructive to know that Ukraine, having robust diplomatic relations with Nigeria, is offering affordable university admission to Nigerian students with an estimated number hovering above 12,000 currently,” Ogbeide reportedly said.
Daily Trust reports that the Nigerian government had earlier issued an advisory to its citizens in Ukraine, saying they are “responsible for their personal security and safety.”
A statement shared on Twitter by the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) said: “The embassy urges Nigerian nationals resident in Ukraine to remain calm but be very vigilant and be responsible for their personal security and safety.”
The statement also asked students seeking temporary relocation to seek proper clearance and guarantee from their respective institutions, authorities/ agents.
“In case of students seeking such temporary relocation, they are enjoined to seek proper clearance and guarantee from their respective institutions, authorities/agents on the way forward in respect to their studies during this period and/or thereafter,” the embassy reportedly told students.
‘We are living in fear’
While some Nigerian students in Ukraine said they felt abandoned by their country amidst the escalating war between Russia and Ukraine, others said they were living in fear.
Firdausi Muhammad Usman, a medical student in Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine told the BBC Hausa Service that everyone, especially students were living in fear and anxiety since early Thursday and that they were at a loss as to the exact situation on the ground.
She said: “Around 5am local time, we could hear huge explosions which got us up. I was together with my younger sister at the time; we were terrified and did not know what to do.
“All of a sudden, I could see the Ukrainians we live alongside in the building trooping out with their children and portmanteaus. We remained in the building until around 1pm when we heard another explosion, and then we were told that we should seek refuge at a shelter that is safer.
“While in the shelter, we found out that curfew had been imposed; therefore we should go back to our residence. Streetlights have been put off but water supply and electricity were still accessible, but in the morning internet services were cut off; we are now relying on ‘data plan’ to connect to the world through which we are able to communicate with our families in Nigeria.
“Our families are in a panic. The embassy did not yet speak to us or issue any statement, but they only issued us some forms in which we filled our basic information and the addresses of our kins in Nigeria,” she said. A Nigerian parent whose daughter is studying in Ukraine said there was tension among parents on the situation.
“We are facing the consequences because before now when I talked with my daughter she told me that there is a crisis going on in eastern Ukraine, that means that the separatists are fighting the Ukrainian authorities for sovereignty,” he said.
Asked if he was thinking of evacuating his daughter, the parent said: “Of course, that’s the most strategic thing to do but the issue is that it depends on when and if one’s daughter is safe.
“For you to even get to the airport you need to travel on a train for seven hours, so it is not really an easy thing. The best thing is evacuation but what we are calling is a diplomatic approach so that the issue can be settled. We are calling for dialogue.”
The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has also written to President Muhammadu Buhari appealing for the immediate evacuation of students in Ukraine.
A letter signed by Eunice Eleaka, NANS executive reads: “We plead with you His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari to please send for the immediate evacuation of the Nigerian students currently in Ukraine.
“We can only trust and wait on our great nation (giant of Africa) in this perilous time.”
The House of Representatives has also called for the evacuation of Nigerians especially students living in Ukraine.
It has mandated the leader of the House, Alhassan Ado Doguwa (APC, Kano), the Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Buba Yakub (APC, Adamawa) to liaise with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the issue.
This was sequel to the adoption of a motion moved by Ahmed Munir (APC, Kaduna) at plenary on Thursday.
Presenting the motion, the lawmaker said, there was a need for Nigeria to evacuate its citizens from the country as tension grew and war commenced.
Munir noted that the lives of Nigerians are at risk as the war may escalate in the coming days putting them in a more precarious situation.
However, some Nigerians currently trapped in Ukraine have ruled out the option of returning to the country.
Speaking with Daily Trust via telephone, they expressed cynicism about the federal government’s promise to evacuate willing Nigerians from the war-torn country following Russia’s invasion.
Edidiong Cyprian, a Nigerian who has lived in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, for many years, described the promise as unrealistic due to past unfulfilled promises of evacuation. “I was here in 2013 during a similar crisis when they promised to evacuate Nigerians and they never did,” he said.
Treasure Chinenye Bellgam, a medical student in Kyiv, said the government’s gesture was good but, “I am a believer in Christ Jesus and I have to ask God for direction whether to return to Nigeria or not,” she said.
We’ve arranged special flight – FG
The federal government said yesterday that it has arranged a special flight operation to evacuate Nigerians from Ukraine.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, in an interview with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) said the Nigerian Embassy in Kyiv had been contacted to finalise the arrangements for those willing to return to the country.
He said, “The Federal Government of Nigeria has arranged for a special flight operation to evacuate our citizens from Ukraine in view of the escalating tension between that country and Russia.
“The Nigerian Embassy in Kyiv has been contacted to arrange those wishing to return home from other areas including Donetsk and Luhansk.
“Nigerians are assured that the ministry is following the event in the country. We would do everything for the safety of Nigerians in Ukraine, particularly students,” it said.