Some Nigerian students studying in Ukraine have complained that they were threatened with guns by Ukrainian soldiers as they struggled to escape Russia’s invasion of that country.
A medical student, Adebowale Oduola, told Reuters on arrival in Abuja on Friday that he and some friends were trying to get on a train to flee Ukraine when the soldiers pointed guns at them and ordered them back.
The Ukrainian troops told them that they were only letting pregnant women on the service from the city of Lviv to the Polish border, but he said he saw them stop some pregnant African women from getting on board.
“When we asked why they were doing this, the soldiers pointed guns at us, endangering our lives,” he told Reuters after he finally managed to complete his journey and landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on Friday.
Reuters said it could not independently verify the accounts of Asian and African students being pulled off trains, held up at borders and pushed to the back of long lines.
Ukraine’s national police and state border service did not immediately respond to requests for comment on reports that Reuters had received from refugees. But the African Union (UN) said this week that it was disturbed by what it had heard and the UN refugee agency said it had urged authorities in countries neighbouring Ukraine to open their borders to African citizens.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said on Wednesday that authorities had sent up a hotline for African and Asian students looking for help in getting out. “We are working intensively to ensure their safety and speed up their passage,” he tweeted.
‘The police dragged us out’
Adebowale did finally manage to get away after waiting for hours for a train at Lviv then getting permission to travel to Romania. He was among 415 Nigerian students who flew into Abuja on a Nigerian government chartered flight from Bucharest. The government has also sent planes to collect Nigerians from Poland and Hungary.
The second batch of about 180 arrived Abuja Friday evening through an Air Peace flight. One student still waiting in Warsaw told Reuters via Zoom that he and two fellow Nigerians were pulled off a train they had boarded in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.
“We were already in our cabin, and they called police on us. The police came and dragged us out. Police (said) that ‘this is specifically for Ukrainians’,” Alexander Orah, a 25-year-old management student, said.
Reuters could also not independently confirm his account. Orah said he and his friends were eventually allowed to board a train to Medyka, on the border with Poland, but then met guards who told them that Africans, South Asians and Arabs had to use a different crossing into Romania. When the students refused, he said the guards put up barricades to stop them crossing while allowing white people to leave. When the growing crowd began to move forward, a soldier pointed a gun at them, he said.
“He cocked his gun and stood in a shooting position, so we raised our hands up and started telling him, ‘We are students; we just want to go home’.” Orah eventually made it to the Polish capital and started looking for his next exit.
Stranded Nigerians laud FG’s intervention
Meanwhile, some stranded Nigerians who fled Ukraine to Poland have appreciated the Federal Government for its efforts at ensuring their safe and successful evacuation to Nigeria.
The evacuees made this known in separate interviews with newsmen on Friday before departing the Warsaw International Airport in Poland.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that as of 8.15 a.m., the Air Peace Air craft conveying the 180 evacuees had been filled to capacity.
The evacuees, who narrated their ordeal while trying to flee Ukraine, appreciated the Federal Government and its mission in Poland for all the arrangements.
A student from Ukraine, Ms Eniola Badejo, appreciated the government’s efforts but appealed for more information and better coordination as the exercise continued. “We thank the Federal Government of Nigeria because it has been really tiring. We went through a lot of stress. Many of us travelled all the way and we have barely slept.
“We want them to give us more information because we were not given enough information. “I am just happy to be going back to my family. I feel happy and grateful that I am going back to my parents,” Badejo said.
Another student who left Ukraine, Mr Joseph Chikwado, said what was most important to him was his successful crossing from Ukraine into Poland amidst all the challenges as he looked forward to returning to Nigeria.
“It was a very bad experience trying to get across the borders from Ukraine into Poland because of the weather. “It was very bad and very cold; very long distance; no vehicle to convey us to the borders. We got there pretty late. We had to find a way to warm ourselves.
“We are happy we are safe now and getting back to our country, I feel relieved,” Chikwado said. Ms Kella Wengwu, a student of Dnipro Medical Institute, Ukraine, said she was lucky to be on the flight, explaining that the cancelled flight of March 3 gave her the opportunity to make the trip.
Wengwu explained that she would have missed the flight as she did not register with the Nigerian Embassy in Poland upon arrival.
She said: “Leaving Ukraine was very tough. I had left my city over two weeks to the capital because there were warnings on the invasion from Russia on social media. “Coming here, I do not know how I got here. I was going to miss this flight because I did not go to the embassy to write my name. I got here and was told the plane was filled up. I waited to see if any opportunity would arise.
“It is mixed feelings for me. I am not quite happy I am leaving school. Ukraine is my home now because since I arrived it has been great. “But at the same time, I am safe; I am going home to my loved ones. Thank you for the opportunity.”
Nigeria’s Ambassador to Poland, Christian Ugwu, appreciated President Muhammadu Buhari for his swift intervention and release of funds to get all stranded Nigerians in Ukraine back home.
Ugwu said the embassy in Poland was on top of the situation and had successfully coordinated the first batch of Nigerians who were being evacuated already. The ambassador, however, urged all Nigerians who had made it to Poland to ensure they got ready to be evacuated home rather than remain in Poland.
“We have been trying our best to convince the Nigerian students that there is no need to remain here in Poland to constitute nuisance and that the Federal Government is trying their possible best to make them comfortable. “And that is why they have made provisions for them to be comfortable in hotels and provided aircraft to convey them back home.
“For those who refused to go, they will be remaining at their own risk.
“We advise parents to try as much as possible to counsel their wards and children that they should come back. When the crisis in Ukraine subsides, they can return. Remaining in Poland will be a difficult thing for them. “It is kudos to Nigeria that the president has granted an urgent flight evacuation to these students. He has sent funds and things are moving accordingly.
“And the Nigerian students from Ukraine are happy that they are being treated well and being taken care of,” Ugwu said.
Leader of the evacuation exercise from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Bolaji Akinremi, explained that the March 3 flight was cancelled due to delay in getting all the intending evacuees together from their respective hotels.
Akinremi explained that as of when they were ready, the international law did not allow for the crew members to continue with the journey as they had overshot their duty time.