Nigerians who were recently evacuated from Ukraine amid the ongoing Russian have narrated how they escaped being killed in the intense bombings and missiles fired by military forces from Moscow.
Nigerians Narrates Ordeal In Ukraine
As of Friday night, March 5, no fewer than 775 Nigerians had been flown back to the country. They were all received at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja.
Speaking with Punch, a 300-level medical student at the University of Ternopil, Anuoluwakintan Olawoye said apart from the racial discrimination, she starved, trekked and stood for long hours.
She noted that the reports of the invasion and bombs going off in different parts of the country were enough to plant fears in anybody, but that she was happy she was able to escape.
She said, “I do not wish my enemy what I went through, even though mine was not as bad as others’. There was a curfew, we starved because there was nothing to buy, no store opened and sirens blared every time! No taxis to move from one place to another. We had to trek for hours. The city was becoming vacant. We couldn’t sleep knowing that the country was at war.
“On Thursday morning, there was a bombing in Kyiv but thankfully I was in Ternopil so I escaped. Again on Friday, some parts of Lviv were bombed; Lviv is two hours journey away from Ternopil.”
Olawoye said she made for the Romanian border after trekking for hours but on getting there, she found that preference was given to Ukrainian citizens.
She added, “We got to the border around 4 pm and we were told to wait. We waited till 8 pm and they didn’t allow us (blacks) to go inside. We attempted to make a move when they called on women and children and they turned us back. They only allowed their citizens to go. It was two hours after they left that they said they would come back to us.
“We pleaded with the officers that the snow was much outside, I was shivering as a result but they did nothing. I crossed about 2 am and it was by luck. Some were not that lucky. The racism that I encountered at the Ukrainian border was not for the weak. They were pushing us aside just to allow their trucks to move. They shouted at us, pushed us and did all sorts.”
Olawoye, however, said she was treated very well in Romania, noting that she would be proceeding to meet her parents. She added that she would love to return to Ukraine to complete her studies once the war ends.
Also, Abraham Praise said she never believed she could experience such in her lifetime, especially with the bombs and missiles that had killed both troops and civilians in different parts of the country.
She said, “I trekked for three hours non-stop. I had friends who trekked for more hours. You just had to forget you have legs while you keep going. The thought of you keeping yourself alive would keep you going. Some people fainted along the road. The stronger ones among us had to give them support. I never thought I would have to experience something like this.”
Praise called on the government to assist evacuees with therapy to get over the experience, saying people who survived war, no matter how distant, needed some counselling.
She said, “Everyone who has gone through this experience needs therapy. Although we are a strong people, to have made it out alive and be able to see your friends and families is exciting. For some of us, the future is still uncertain because of the disruption in our academics. I am in my third year while some others are in their final year and are meant to graduate in June.”
“Although I am happy I would be seeing my family, this is not just the way I wanted it. But there is still life and there’s hope. If this is where we would have to start from to move ahead, we are ready.”
Rabia Zalka who was in Ukraine with her sister said she didn’t know if she would survive, but that to have made it back to Nigeria alive despite the invasion, rising tension, the bombing of cities and even the capture of the Nuclear plant by the Russians, meant a lot to them.
“I didn’t think it was really serious until my sister and I walked a long distance to the Romanian border. I trekked for hours. It was not easy. We were keeping an eye on each other and helping each other,” said Zalka.
Another returnee, Peter Ajuwon, said the Ukraine war should serve as a lesson to Nigerians on the importance of peace.
He said, “War is not a favourable situation. Every aspect of life gets affected. I encourage people to embrace peace in Nigeria. Our experiences crossing the border to Romania were not pleasant. Getting to Romania was hell, but we had a pleasant experience in Romania. We got a lot of support from the Romanian government and the Nigerian Ambassador there. Some Romanian NGOs showed us love too; they didn’t discriminate.”
Some of the parents and relatives who came to receive them were visibly elated seeing their children alive. Some of them had kept vigil at the airport, awaiting the return of their children.
Other parents whose children had yet to arrive were seen lurking around and anxiously waiting for their children’s return.
Mrs Zalka whose two daughters were among the first batch said she was happy to have her daughters back in the country. She told our correspondent she could not eat, she cried almost every day and prayed for the safe return of her daughters who were schooling in Ukraine.
Zalka said, “We thank God they are back with us. I was not eating, I cried almost every day and prayed fervently while they were away. I don’t have anything to say but to thank God.”
When asked about the next plans for her daughters, she told our correspondent that she would enrol them in another school in Nigeria.
She said, “I have secured admission for them in the country, so by next month they should be back in school. There are a lot of universities looking for students, particularly those from Ukraine.”
Another mother, who was very excited, said that reuniting with her daughter was something of joy to her.
Alimat said, “Reuniting with my daughter means a lot to me. With explosions and bombings that we see on a daily basis on the television, I almost thought it wouldn’t be possible for me to see my daughter again. I have nothing to say but thank God and the Nigerian government for bringing them back.”
Josephine said her experience was more harrowing because she was pregnant and had to be more careful to avoid a breakdown or bring any harm to her unborn child.
She said, “I lived in Kyiv, the nation’s capital and the tension was higher there because it is the major target of the Russian troops. They believe if they can gain control of the capital city, displacing the President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, would be easier.
“Remember, Putin had called for the Ukrainian military to oust him through a coup, to enable him to influence the emergence of a pliable president. So, I’m happy I made it out of Kyiv alive. Before the issue escalated, I got calls from both home and abroad asking me to leave but I felt it was more dangerous to be on the run and accidentally run into the gunfire or the missiles. That was why I didn’t leave on time.”
Narrating her torturous but successful journey to the Polish border, she said she summoned courage and fought her way into an evacuation train leaving Kyiv for Lviv when the opportunity came.
She added, “By the time I boarded the train, all the seats were occupied, so I had to take a standing position for the six-hour ride. The story is easy to tell now but the experience wasn’t easy by any means. It’s tough for a physically fit person to stand in a moving bus for six hours not to talk of someone who is pregnant and is in her third trimester.”
But that was not the end; she said the journey from Lviv to the Polish border was another stressful one as she spent seven hours on the road.
“When I arrived in Lviv, I boarded a bus at 3am going to the border and we didn’t get there until 10am,” she said. “It took that long because of the heavy gridlock on the way. From Poland, I went further to Hungary and made my way to the Nigerian Embassy in Budapest.”
Josephine feared that many Nigerians might be stranded in Ukraine, but she expressed hope that they would escape the attack. On Tuesday, a 22-year-old Indian medical student, Naveen Gyanagoudar, was killed in Kharkiv, Ukraine, when he left the bunker he had been staying in to buy food.
Similarly, no fewer than 47 persons were reportedly killed in Chernihiv on Thursday and Friday following air strikes by the Russian forces on high-rise apartments, clinics and a hospital. Several persons, including three Ukrainian troops, were also said to have been killed following an attack on Ukraine’s nuclear plant.
Like Josephine, Temitayo Kolawole said it took her about 24 hours to get to the Polish border and from there, it took her another 24 hours before she could get to a place of rest. “I was on the move for about two days without resting,” she said in an interview with Channels TV.
Kolawole, who lived in Zaporizhzhia, said she struggled to make her way to Lviv, where the Ukrainian-Polish border is.
She noted, “From Poland, other African students and I chartered a bus that took us to Hungary, where we met a large crowd. The Immigration officials took their time to screen us to ensure that no one smuggled weapons or any illicit substance across the borders. There was no form of racial discrimination. Only Ukrainian men aged between 18 and 60 were not allowed entry.”
Meanwhile, there have been some reports that students leaving Ukraine might lose their studentship and not be able to return to Ukraine, but Kolawole said the school assured them there would be nothing of such.
She said, “Till now we have not heard from them and there is a post going round that there is a possibility that we would be moved to a Polish university. We are not really sure about that. For now, there is no information from my school as regards how we would proceed with our studies. The only information we got was that we could get some psychological help or talk to a therapist, especially for those who were close to the attacks.”
Gabriel Aduda, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the Federal Government has made all necessary arrangements to ensure that no Nigerian is left stranded in any of the countries where they have fled to.
Aduda said that Nigerian airlines – Air Peace and Air Max – would transport stranded Nigerians from Romania, Hungary, and Poland.
The Federal Government gave all returnees from Ukraine $100 (about N48,000) to ameliorate their sufferings.
KanyiDaily recalls that President Muhammadu Buhari had on Wednesday approved $8.5 million for the immediate evacuation of 5,000 Nigerians stranded as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war.