Where to now for students who fled the war in Ukraine?

Scores of Nigerian students have fled or been evacuated from Ukraine over the past week, either back to their home country or to other countries in the European Union. Efforts are under way to evacuate several who are still trapped. For many students, this has been a harrowing experience, and most now face an uncertain future where their education is concerned.

Approximately 4,300 Nigerian students study in the eastern European country, the fifth-largest number (5.4%) of the 80,000 international students in Ukraine, according to data from Ukraine’s ministry of education and science.

Previously, students have said that Ukrainian education’s appeal lies mostly in its affordability, a better standard of life and a safe environment.

Racial discrimination at the border

A third-year medical student at Ternopil National Medical University who asked to be identified simply as Aanu, said she left Ternopil on 25 February 2022, a day after explosions were heard in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev.

“As explosions were heard, a curfew was imposed on Ternopil. My friends and I could not go out to buy food. We were starving because no stores were open and taxi operators didn’t work. We had a sleepless night,” Aanu recalled.

The following morning, Aanu said, they left Ternopil for the Romanian border. Due to the lack of taxi services, the group joined thousands of people trekking for hours to get to the border. Here, they experienced racial discrimination, Aanu said. It was about 4pm and everyone was asked to wait outside. Four hours later, Ukrainian immigration officers told them that only Ukrainians would be allowed in [to Romania] first, Aanu said.

She pleaded with the officers that she was cold and feeling sick because of the snow, but they turned a deaf ear, Aanu said. “They didn’t care. They wanted only Ukrainians inside first,” she said. At about 2am, Aanu and a few foreign black students were eventually allowed to cross the border.

Once she made it to Romania, however, Aanu said the officers were friendly. She was able to relax in a shelter for refugees until 2 March 2022 when she was evacuated to Nigeria.

“War isn’t a good thing, and I hope the Russian and Ukrainian governments eventually come to an amicable solution because I definitely would return to Ukraine when the war is over,” she said.

Sleepless nights for union president

Another student for whom staying in Nigeria is not an option even though she has been traumatised by the war, is Eunice Eleaka, acting president of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) in Ukraine.

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