Nigerian students in Ukraine say they are confused and feel abandoned by their country amidst the escalating war between Russia and Ukraine. There are over 4,000 Nigerian students studying in Ukraine.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how Russian forces attacked major Ukrainian cities Thursday morning in what President Vladimir Putin described as a “special military operation.”
Russia says it is targeting military installations in Ukraine but there are fears many civilians have been killed in airstrikes.
Amidst the confusion in Ukraine, Nigerians studying in the Eastern Ukrainian country say they feel let down.
A Nigerian student at Lviv National Medical University, Ukraine, Anjola Philips, told PREMIUM TIMES, on Wednesday, that although the Nigerian embassy was ‘responsive’, students had no information on what to do should a full-blown war ensue.
“We do not know what is happening, we see other nations organising flights for their people. I think it will be good to know if we have a place of convergence, we have no idea and people are asking if they should start returning home.
“The embassy is responsive anytime we reach out to them but it is the same response every time, which leaves me wondering if there are no plans for the worst-case scenario,” Mr Philips, the president of the Nigerian students union in Lviv, said.
He noted that the situation on the ground is one of great uncertainty. “No one knows what is our fate as Nigerian students here. We just get things online and we try to feel the pulse of the school administration and the locals. Lviv is pretty safe, everybody is going about their business…”
“Some days ago, the school sent out information that students could go back to their houses with the exception of students who had professional examinations. We are still trying to get further clarification from the school on why this group is exempted.
“The issue is we do not have any direction from the Nigerian embassy, I reached out to them and was told to keep checking the website for information. They said they will update us with more information if they receive any. The last update on their website was on January 26, asking us to call the embassy in case of emergency,” he said.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the Nigerian embassy in Ukraine Thursday released a statement saying Nigerians in Ukraine should essentially defend themselves.
“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 Nigerian Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine said in a statement shared on Twitter by the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM).
Felix Ogunlade, a recent graduate of Ternopil National Medical University who lives in Kyiv awaiting his medical licence examination, told this newspaper that between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. Thursday morning, he heard three explosions go off.
“When I heard the first explosion, I thought I was hallucinating due to the panic and then there were multiple explosions, it sounded like fireworks. I was not sure until my housemates confirmed they heard the same thing.”
Mr Ogunlade noted that as residents were scampering out of their apartments in fear, he tried to find his way out to Lviv or anywhere in the western part of Ukraine which is still safe but there was no means of transportation out of the city.
“There was no Uber or train available this morning when we first checked. But we found a train for tomorrow that had 300 seats when we checked but before we could mobilise other Nigerians and return to book, it was filled up. This was about 20 to 30-minute interval,” he said.
He said, “some affirmative message or communication (from the Nigerian embassy) would help his confidence at the moment.”
Mr Ogunlade spoke minutes before the statement by the Nigerian embassy.
In Ternopil, a six hours drive from Kyiv (Ukraine’s capital), Jessica Orakpo, president of Nigerian students in Ternopil National Medical University said the embassy “has basically said we are on our own.”
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES Thursday morning, Ms Orakpo said “we received a letter few minutes ago asking us to remain calm and before today when the threats started, I called the ambassador and he said he could not ask us to go home but people who wanted to could but he would not be quoted as asking Nigerians to go home.”
According to Ms Orakpo, a lot of Nigerians are now stuck in Ternopil because earlier on when some foreign students were appealing for online learning given the rising tension, the school said it could only do that if the foreign embassies wrote them (school) asking for such for their citizens.
“We reached out to our embassy to put pressure on schools but our embassy said they could not do anything saying they could not help our school make that decision. Now the case has become worse, we cannot travel, most airlines have cancelled flights, the embassy is not saying anything. We are literally fending for ourselves.”
She noted the ambassador said he could only provide relief funds but could not intervene in the school’s decision making.
“India brought their letter but Ghana and Nigeria’s letters were not issued and that was when I called and they said they could not infringe on the decision-making process of our school, that it has never been done.
“And if our school wants that kind of letter from them, our school should write to them. It became a game of diplomacy, nobody wants to take responsibility for asking Nigerians to go home.”
Although Ternopil is relatively safe, the panic in the air is palpable as schools have been shut, residents are panic buying and flights cancelled, she said.
According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science in 2020, of the 76548 international students in Ukraine, 4,227 are Nigerians, the fifth-highest international student population.
As world leaders condemned and issued sanctions on Russia, Nigeria has not stated its position and has remained quiet in offering any form of clear advisory to its citizens. The most it had done before the Thursday statement was the January statement asking Nigerians living in Ukraine to take their safety seriously and avoid travels to identified hot spots in Eastern Ukraine.
PREMIUM TIMES visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja on Wednesday but got no response on what or if there is a plan for Nigerians living in Ukraine.
The ministry was as calm as it could be with different events happening and staffers going about their activities as though the world was at its most peaceful state.
On the same day, PREMIUM TIMES contacted the ministry’s spokesperson, Francisca Omoyuli, she said she could not respond immediately as she was at a two-day event in Transcorp Hilton, Abuja.
An official of the ministry who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES in confidence said students who wanted to be evacuated would need to notify the embassy of their intentions to return home adding that the students should also be able to prove that the security situation in their location was dire and deserving evacuation.
She added that as of Wednesday, the Nigerian embassy in Kyiv had yet to notify the ministry of any alarming situation or need to evacuate Nigerians.
Kyiv residents leave city
Residents of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv are trooping out of the capital, moving west in search of safer havens.
India is evacuating its students from Ukraine while U.S., Canada and Australia have evacuated most of their citizens from Ukraine.