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Hiding in subways, unable to cross borders… the plight of Nigerians in Ukraine

Hiding in subways, unable to cross borders… the plight of Nigerians in Ukraine
February 25
15:40 2022

When most parts of the world went to sleep on Wednesday, February 23, 2022, Russia went to war. People woke up to the news that President Vladimir Putin had ordered a special military operation in Ukraine’s Donbas region.

Explosions were also heard in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Kramatorsk and in other parts of Ukraine.

The attacks were said to have targeted key infrastructure in the Eastern European country.

Putin had on Tuesday ordered troops into separatist-held parts of eastern Ukraine in what he called a “peacekeeping mission”.

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The order came hours after he signed decrees recognising the independence of Moscow-backed breakaway territories of Ukraine — the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.

Airports in Ukraine are currently shut down and several activities grounded.

Over 500 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are said to have been killed while Ukraine claims it has killed 50 Russian troops and destroyed four Russian tanks.

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Across the world, countries are increasingly concerned about the safety of their nationals in Ukraine as it is uncertain how the crisis would pan out.

You can read TheCable’s explainer on why Putin is invading Ukraine here.

HOW ARE NIGERIANS FARING?

There are over 4,000 Nigerians studying in Ukraine, according to the country’s ministry of education and science.

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Nigerians, especially students in Ukraine, have taken to Twitter to narrate their experiences, with some lamenting that there are no immediate evacuation plans should the situation suddenly deteriorate.

A Nigerian student at the Kharkiv Institute of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences told TheCable that he wanted to leave Kharkiv for Ternopil but met the train stations closed.

The student, who preferred anonymity, also said the ATMs have run out of cash.

“I woke to the sounds of the bomb blast this morning around 5am. We’re instructed to remain indoors till further notice Airports are shut down. Some airports were attacked too,” he said.

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He said some Ukrainians are able to leave for neighbouring countries like Poland — but foreigners are stuck because they don’t have the necessary documents to cross the borders.

He said: “I wanted to go to another city and I found out the train stations are closed too. I was to leave to Ternopil but the no way. Ternopil is in the west. It’s safe for now.

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“For now, there is still electricity. People are buying foodstuff but only those with cash. I have no cash with me, just my ATM card that I have money in… but I’m still with the Nigerian food I brought.”

A Twitter user, @owoayo19, who resides in Kyiv said there is panic buying in the city, and that “there is a limit to what we can buy”.

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He noted that he and those around him are safe and that they have enough food to last them for the next three to four days.

“There’s panic too but we’re all communicating and making sure no one is in trouble,” @owoayo19 told TheCable.

“I’ve food, water, electricity too but no cash, just card because all ATMs are down.”

Another Twitter user, @ak_eph, corroborated the account by @owoayo19.

“I went out shopping last week so I still have some food to last me. When I stepped out this morning, there was a lot of rush. There is a limit to what you can buy and money you can withdraw. So far, we are safe,” he said on a Twitter Spaces conversation hosted by @Oluomoofderby.

@Makuo_Ozoude also told TheCable that some shops were closed and that people are rushing to stock up food items.

“Banks are not working, some ATMs are not working, some shops are not open people are running around bulk buying,” she said.

Another student identified simply as Esther said she and other residents took shelter inside a subway station.

Esther said she was scheduled to leave Kharov, Eastern Ukraine, on February 28 but the flight was cancelled.

“At this point, people are saying intra transportations are banned and I need to get to another city for a flight I saw on Saturday,” she said.

“The flight I was supposed to go with on Monday was just cancelled.

“And even if they would do anything, people in Kyiv would be the first they would evacuate.”

WHAT IS FG DOING?

The federal government had earlier in the month asked its citizens living in Ukraine to be security conscious.

On Thursday, the Nigerian embassy in Kyiv asked Nigerian nationals to “remain calm but be very vigilant and be responsible for their personal security and safety”.

It added that Nigerian residents who want to temporarily relocate from Ukraine should ensure they validate their resident documents for ease of return.

ANY EVACUATION PLANS? 

Geoffrey Onyeama, minister of foreign affairs, said on Thursday that the federal government is working on arranging a special flight to evacuate Nigerians currently in Ukraine once airports reopen.

“We are not going to take any chances and we’ve agreed that they should ask all Nigerians to stay in their residence. What we plan to do is that once the airports are opened, the embassy will assist those who are ready and willing to leave the country,” he said.

The ministry of foreign affairs, in a statement issued by Fransisca Omayuli, its spokesperson, said it has confirmation that “military action by the Russians has been confined to military installations”.

“The ministry of foreign affairs has been assured by the Nigerian embassy in Ukraine of the safety of Nigerian in the country and measures are being undertaken to keep them safe and facilitate the evacuation of those who wish to leave,” the statement reads.

“The federal government wishes to assure the families with loved ones in Ukraine that as soon as the airports in the country are opened, it will assist in facilitating the evacuations of Nigerians who are willing to leave.”

It is unclear if the government has any gazetted plans or policies on evacuation in cases of emergencies.

Efforts by TheCable to get a response from the government proved abortive as calls placed to Abike Dabiri-Erewa, chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOMC), were not answered.

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