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Nigerians who escaped Russia’s ongoing military offensive in Ukraine arrived in Abuja, the nation’s capital, on Friday, narrating how they escaped the intense bombings and missiles fired by Russia’s military forces.
The war, which has led to the death of hundreds of civilians and troops, leaving thousands injured and many more displaced, has seen millions of foreign nationals fleeing Ukraine for neighbouring countries.
As of Friday night, no fewer than 775 Nigerians had been flown back to the country. The first batch comprising 415 persons arrived from Romania in the morning while the second batch, comprising 180, arrived from Poland at about 6:30 pm. Another 180 arrived in the third batch. They were all received at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. One more batch was being expected from Hungary and Poland as of the time of filing this report.
Some of the returnees who fled Ukraine to Romania told Saturday PUNCH how they were able to escape the invasion. Despite appeals for diplomacy and the heavy sanctions imposed by other countries, the European Union and other allies, the Russian forces, under the strict orders of President Vladimir Putin, have continued to launch bombs and missiles into different parts of Ukraine, the second-largest city in Europe.
Read Also: First Batch of Nigerians Arrive From Ukraine
Anuoluwakintan Olawoye, a 300-level medical student at the University of Ternopil, 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.”
Abraham 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.”
Praise added, “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.
This post was written by Obiajulu Joel Nwolu.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.