Those crying for Heartless Ukraine are Ignorant – Foreigners in Russia

With Russia as the aggressor and Ukraine at the receiving end of its bombs and missiles, the focus of concerned citizens since war broke out between the two countries early in the week has been the plight of their compatriots in Ukraine.


The stories and pictures that have come across of Nigerian students and others trekking very long distances from Ukraine to the country’s border with Hungary, Romania and others where they hope to secure asylum, have accentuated the anxiety that has been lot of the average Nigerian.


But Mr. Femi Ajulo, the lead consultant at Michelle and Anthony Consulting, a pioneer oversea education consultancy outfit, is of the view that Nigerians in Russia may soon need as much help as does their compatriots in Ukraine on account of the consequences of the sanctions that are being imposed on Russia by the US, Canada, the UK and other members of the European Union.

On Monday, the Nigerian government announced its willingness to join in the fray of sanctions against Russia once the United Nations provided the needed leadership.

Ukraine Invasion: Fears shift to Nigerian students in Russia
Those crying for Heartless Ukraine are Ignorant – Foreigners in Russia

“On imposing sanction, this is going to be a collective action. The United Nations has to act,” Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, was quoted as saying.


“We are going to act and engage within the framework of the United Nations. So if the United Nations adopts and imposes sanctions against Russia, we will comply with UN’s resolution.”

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“We made that very clear; we condemned it. First of all, military force is not the solution. We have spoken up about the territorial integrity that we recognise the integrity of Ukraine. “Nigeria’s position on the resolution is very clear, that we do not condone this military intervention in another country,” Onyeama added.


Ajulo is, however, of the view that while the focus has been on Nigerians who are stranded in Ukraine, the Nigerian students in Russia would soon be in for a very tough time.


Ajulo, whose outfit has facilitated the migration of more than 3,000 Nigerian students to Russia in the last four to five years, said that while Nigerian students have not much to be afraid of in terms of being hurt physically by the war, the consequences of the economic sanctions being imposed on Russia by world powers could be far reaching.

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He said: “I sent over 3,000 students to Kursk State Medical University over a period of time. Their education is one of the best. Russia is safe but the Nigerian students will start having problems because of the financial system that is being cut. They will not be able to buy food and all that.


“The Nigerian government should be proactive. The sanctions by western countries will start affecting them. Their cards will not work, and they might not be able to buy food.”

“Good that the Russian ruble has dropped. That might be an advantage for them. If the war persists and sanctions continue, most of the Nigerian students in Russia will start having issues.”


The White House had said last Saturday that the United States and allies had agreed to block select Russian banks from Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), the global financial messaging system.


This payment network allows individuals and businesses to make electronic or card payments even if the customer or vendor uses a different bank than the payee.


SWIFT works by assigning each member institution a unique ID code that identifies not only the bank name but country, city, and branch.


Reacting to the development, Daniel Gumm, a Nigerian, who has been living in Russia for the past 10 years both as a student and resident, told The Nation that the sanction on Russia was yet to have any effect on the Nigerian students and others resident in the embattled country.


Giving veiled support for the attack on Ukraine, he said there was the need for the Russian special operation in Ukraine to put a total stop to what he described as “Ukrainian Nazism, discrimination and biases against ethnic Russians living in the Ukraine.”


According to him, since 2014, ethnic Russians have been treated poorly and totally marginalised by the Ukrainian government. Gumm said: “The ethnic Russians in Ukraine have cried and cried, but to no avail. They were murdered and raped by Ukrainians.


“Imagine they didn’t have access to water or electricity just because they are Russians.”


He condemned America and the EU for not being sensitive to the plight of ethnic Russians living in Ukraine.


“They are totally blind to these facts, so the people decided to plead to Russia for help.


“Russia carefully tried to resolve this issue with Ukraine but the Ukrainians were very aggressive and stubborn in their response to the Russians.


“For the past eight years, Russia has prepared itself for war politically, militarily and economically.”


“Right now, we Nigerians living in Russia are safe. We are very comfortable here. We study and work freely.

“The sanctions are basically useless. Prices are still the same in Russia. The ruble is now four naira. So the situation is really a positive one for Nigerians.


“The sanctions won’t affect Nigerians in Russian as we can use our bank cards in Russia. The sanctions are only effective against Russian banks.”


He noted that Russia had responded to the sanctions imposed by the West, adding that the economy was doing pretty well as Russia had already signed huge contracts with countries like China and India.


“Russia has a huge reserve and resources. Like I said, they have been preparing for eight years,” he said.


Don’t cry for Ukraine

While countries like Nigeria have expressed sympathy and support for Ukraine, Gumm said that many who are doing so are ignorant of what foreigners go through in Ukraine.


He said: “Ukrainian ultra-nationalists are attacking Africans in the Ukraine. They prevent them from using public transport to escape the Russians.


“Ukraine is a country of comedy, and time has come for them to pay for their atrocities. Russia has promised to continue till they demilitarise the Ukraine.”


He advised the Nigerian government to as a matter of urgency evacuate Nigerians from the Ukraine because Russia will totally demilitarise it.


“The Nigerian government should use this once in a lifetime opportunity to build good ties with Russia. We can benefit a lot from Russia educationally, militarily, politically, and so on.


“The Nigerian government shouldn’t support the Ukraine because doing so will make the Nigerian government look dependent and aloof in its understanding of the situation in Eastern Europe.”


Why it is difficult to track Nigerian students in Ukraine

Since the beginning of the hostilities, many countries have made arrangements to evacuate their nationalities from Ukraine. This was made possible because of the availability of data of their nationalities in Ukraine.


It was not until Wednesday that the Nigerian government began the evacuation of Nigerians from Ukraine. The Nigerian foreign affairs minister initially scheduled Monday for the exercise but had to move it to Wednesday to give enough room for the ministry, the House of Representatives, and the Nigerian foreign missions in Ukraine, Poland, and Russia to complete the formalities for moving Nigerians from inside Ukraine to safe borders with neighboring countries.


The minister, who said there were about 5,600 Nigerian students in Ukraine, added that there were also non-students, some of whom might not have been legally documented.


Ajulo had told The Nation that unlike other countries of the world where admission processes are being done by the schools, most of the Nigerian students in Ukraine went through agents that were not signed-on by any of the universities.


The Nation gathered that the plight of the Nigerian students had been worsened because most of the agents that brought them to Ukraine were not Nigerians but Lebanese, Pakistanis and Indians.


“Nobody can explain the situation in Ukraine right now because it is not organised.


Most of the Nigerian students in Ukraine were recruited by agents, not by the schools directly. The agents run the show for the schools in Ukraine.

“The data base for these students is not really known.


“You know we have brothers here who are not professionals and it might be a big problem for Nigerians to really get them.


“My heart goes to them. I understand that Nigeria in the Diaspora is doing a lot.


“I just hope that Nigerian students will be able to organise themselves very well. If not, they should ask the president of the Nigerian students’ union to coordinate with the government.


“But as it is, I don’t know whether we know the number of the Nigerian students in Ukraine, because they go through different agents, not schools. That is the main problem.”


Ajulo said it was high time the government stopped encouraging scholarship to Eastern Europe, though he admitted that it would be difficult because it is the cheapest.


He said: “You would probably want to go to Ukraine with $2,000. You can get a school in Ukraine with $1,000. Your child will get accommodation with $3,000 dollars, which is cheaper than most private universities in Nigeria.


“The private universities in Nigeria charge more than what you need to go to Ukraine.


“Fine, they are developed countries, but talk of transferring technology, it can’t be done there because most of their courses are not in English medium except medicine, and I stand to be corrected.


“If banks would support, most parents would be able to send their children to Western Europe.


It was hell getting out of Ukraine

While many Nigerian students are still trapped in Ukraine, many of those who managed to escape have relived hellish experiences.


Speaking to Al Jazeera, Lolade Lawal, a third-year medical student, said that life had been turned upside down in a way she never imagined.


With sirens blaring in the background as she spoke, Lawal said in a chat with Al Jazeera on the phone from her hideout in a bunker with other students in northeastern city of Sumy: “It is scary, very scary. I’m very worried. People are running for their lives. We are hiding in groups so we can keep an eye on each other.


“There’s no escape. Trains have stopped working. Most supermarkets are closed and those that are opened are running very low on food stocks. ATMs are not working and everyone is desperately looking for money.”


There are no official figures on the number of African students currently studying in Ukraine, but Lawal said “there are hundreds of us in our city.


“At my university, there are about 100 Nigerian students. I’m sheltering with some of them,” she added.


“I live in Kyiv. I have been living here since March last year,” Somto Orah, another Nigerian student at State University of Telecommunications in Kyiv, told Al Jazeera.


“We have received no support from any government authorities. The school only gave us bomb shelter to hide when the air raid siren is on.


“The sirens came on and off about five times yesterday before I left.

“There is little food. I couldn’t access cash for two days now. Every ATM on the road has no cash.”


Samuel George, a first-year software engineering student fled Kyiv after the shelling and sirens got too much for him to handle.


“I drove from Kyiv. We are trying to survive. We don’t want to die in a foreign country,” George said.


As he neared the Polish border, George’s luck ran out. He said he had a minor road accident with a vehicle carrying Ukrainians because the road was narrow.


He said they took his money and stopped him from driving any further.


“They are not officials, police or military. They are normal citizens who stopped us Africans from driving to the border. They let Ukrainians pass through but not us,” George said.


But it is not all tales of woe as some Nigerians managed to escape from the hostilities.


One of those lucky Nigerians is Solomon Otabor, a professional footballer who joined Rukh Lviv in January. He has since escaped to England, the place of his birth.


“There were just a lot of cars, a lot of people, a lot of lorries. They were obviously trying to get back.


“Some got told to turn around, which was not nice to see”, Solomon-Otabor said in an interview with Sky Sports on his return to the UK.


“There were a lot of cars. Everybody was just calm but you could see the fear in their faces.


“You could see that fear as they were trying to get out.”

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