Home News 150 Nigerian students trapped in Ukraine, as 775 arrive

150 Nigerian students trapped in Ukraine, as 775 arrive

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It’s not yet joy for some Nigerians trapped in the world’s new war theatre, Ukraine.

This is even as over 775 of them returned home on Friday.

Reports indicate that no fewer than 150 Nigerian students are trapped in the war zone.

In Sumy, a Ukrainian city bordering Russia, the students were reportedly denied access to Russia despite interventions by the Nigerian government.

The conflict between Russia and Belarus, on one side, and Ukraine dates back to 2014 but it was only last year that a large-scale military presence was built around the Ukrainian border. Russia launched a full-scale invasion on 24th February with civilians and their facilities not spared by the bombardment.

The Ukrainian city of Sumy has become a war zone in recent days, losing electricity and forcing most residents to stay in bunkers.

Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama said he had been in discussion with the Russian government with a view to ensuring that the 150 Nigerians that had indicated interest to leave were given access to Russia.

Sumy, which is located in North-East Ukraine, is far from the Polish, Hungarian and Romanian borders and Russia remains the closest place these Nigerian students can run to for shelter.

As at Friday, Russia had not acceded to the Nigerian government’s request to grant access to the students as it continued to bomb the city, destroying the road that connects Sumy to Russia.

According to the Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), the road linking Russia to Sumy had been damaged, making it near impossible for the stranded Nigerians to escape.

According to NIDCOM, Nigerian citizens in the war theatre are the major concern of the government after evacuating those in Romania, Hungary and Poland.

NIDCOM spokesperson, Abdur-Rahman Balogun lamented: ‘Sumy is like a war zone. The embassy has advised them to stay calm. The bridge connecting them to Russia has been damaged. They can neither go by road nor air.

‘We will evacuate everybody, but it has to be well arranged. They are our major concern; they have been unable to cross the border but the government is aware of where they are and we are doing everything possible to make sure they are evacuated. But in the meantime, we want to ask all of them to remain calm and not to wander about which could be very dangerous. At the appropriate time, they will be rescued’.

However, the students keep crying for help. A 21-year-old medical student, Vivian Udenze, who attends Sumy State University, told CNN that, ‘this is the eighth day since the crisis began. A lot of places have been evacuated. There are more than 600 of us who are foreigners and students’.

She said most of the group were medical students from Nigeria, Morocco, Tanzania, Congo and India, among other countries.

Udenze told CNN via the telephone that she woke up to two loud explosions around 8 am on Wednesday and heard gunshots on Thursday.

‘I am so scared and time is running out. We don’t want the Russians to enter the city and meet us here. We need a humanitarian corridor so we can get out’, she said.

Udenze later said that more explosions were heard on Thursday evening at around 6:30 pm local time. The students no longer have electricity or water following the blast, she said.

Complicating the students’ escape is the fact that there is no public transportation available in Sumy, which has come over a heavy fire in recent days, leaving roads and bridges destroyed.

Udenze said she had not been able to reach any representative of the Nigerian embassy.

‘People have tried to contact them … I personally sent a message to someone there but I didn’t get a reply,’ Udenze said.

Another student, Excel Ugochukwu, who is in his first year of Business Management studies, said he heard the sound of an aircraft and a loud explosion. ‘We just lost electricity,’ he said.

He said the university had ‘asked everyone to stay put and in the shelters for now,’ but described a constant threat of danger that makes day-to-day life tense in the city.

‘There is a curfew 6 pm to 6 am. During curfew hours there are total blackouts. Street lights and lights inside the house are turned off’, he told CNN.

‘There are air strike warnings periodically and everyone moves to the bomb shelter’, he added, before running to a nearby bomb shelter.

In a video sent to CNN, another Nigerian student at the university, Nnamdi Chukwuemeka pleaded, ‘Sumy is bordered by Russia, and as such, there is no way for us to escape. We want the international community to help provide a safe corridor for us to move out of Sumy. Things are getting serious’, Chukwuemeka said.

For their over 775 compatriots, who landed in Abuja on Friday, relief is an understatement.

The first batch to touch down at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in the morning comprised 415 from Romania, while the second batch of 180 arrived from Poland at about 6:30 pm. Another 180 arrived in the third batch.

Yet another batch later came in from Hungary and Poland.

Each of the returnees received $100 (about N57,000) from the Nigerian government to facilitate transportation to their various destinations.

Responding to the concern about psychological support for the evacuees, the Director-General, National Emergency Management Agency, Ahmed Habib said, ‘The most important thing is to get them back home and then move from there. There are provisions for all the evacuees… Each and every one of them would get it ($100) before leaving here (the airport). They would be profiled and assessed before being allowed to go’.

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