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Evacuation of Nigerians in Ukraine begins tomorrow

By Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Adamu Abu, John Akubo and Oludare Richards, (Abuja), Ngozi Egenuka (Lagos) and Ayodele Afolabi (Ado Ekiti), with Agency Report
01 March 2022   |   4:15 am
Parents of Nigerians studying in Ukraine yesterday, protested at the Russian Embassy in Abuja. The parents, who bore placards with various inscriptions were basically calling for lasting peace between Russia and Ukraine.

Nigerian women in a peaceful protest at the Russian Embassy over attack on Ukraine in Abuja… yesterday. PHOTO: LUCY LADIDI ATEKO

• Nigeria condemns reports of racism at Ukraine border
• 256 Nigerians moved out of Ukraine, says Onyeama
• First rounds of talks ends as Ukraine holds off Russia’s advance
•Afe Babalola blames FG’s inaction for plight of Nigerians

Parents of Nigerians studying in Ukraine yesterday, protested at the Russian Embassy in Abuja. The parents, who bore placards with various inscriptions were basically calling for lasting peace between Russia and Ukraine.

Aside from the safety of lives and property, some of the parents recalled huge investment made towards the education of their wards, and urged the warring nations to end the hostility in the sake of humanity.

They echoed: “We want peace in Ukraine. We want our children to study and return alive.“But barring unforeseen circumstances, the evacuation of Nigerians stranded in war torn Ukraine will happen on Wednesday (tomorrow).

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Godfrey Onyeama made this known when he met with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila at the National Assembly complex, Abuja.

The minister assured the speaker that things were under control in Ukraine, as the Federal Government had put necessary arrangements in place to ensure the safe return of Nigerians. He disclosed that in the last few days, the ministry, in conjunction with the missions, had completed formalities for Nigerians to move to safe border points from where they would be transported in buses to the airports in neighbouring countries.

The Minister listed Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and even Russia, among the countries to be used as exit points. The minister, who disclosed that 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.

He informed Gbajabiamila that working closely with the governments of those countries, the ministry had secured their cooperation to grant access to Nigerians into their territories, preparatory for the evaluation.

Onyeama dismissed reports that Africans, particularly Nigerians, were not allowed to leave Ukraine or granted access into the neighbouring countries, blaming the chaos at some of the borders on “panic” and the fact that so many people were rushing at the time on hearing the sound of bombs and artillery fire.

“Where we are now is the point of ascertaining the exact number we are dealing with and to agree on the location for the evaluation.
“We are thinking Bucharest; but all of this is being sorted out and we are constantly working to ensure that everything goes on very smoothly,” the minister said. Onyeama also explained that the delay in evacuating Nigerians wasn’t because the government wasn’t ready or didn’t know what to do.

According to him, “80 per cent to 90 per cent” of countries and people did not believe that Russia would indeed invade Ukraine.
“I was in touch with our ambassador early enough and he assured us that there was no need for evacuation. The students even said there was no problem at all.

“Also, the Ukrainian government did not want people to leave, and especially because most of our people are students, who will not be able to go back to Ukraine again, should they leave,” Onyeama further stated. Gbajabiamila expressed satisfaction over the measure put in place, stressing the need for the country to find ways to quicken its response time to emergencies.

He noted that response mechanisms, including funds, aeroplanes and other equipment, must readily be on standby to respond to life-threatening situations such as the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and how they affected Nigerians.

“We must be in a state of readiness at all times. We should have our own planes and necessary funding to respond quickly to such emergencies,” the speaker said.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has sued for peace as delegations from Kyiv arrived venue for negotiations with Russia, five days after the invasion. Among their demand was immediate ceasefire by Russia and withdrawal of its troop from Ukraine.

The embattled Ukraine has also called for recognition as a member of European Union (EU). Ukrainian statesman Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelensky, urged the EU to grant his country immediate membership as Russia’s assault against the pro-western country went into its fifth day.

“We appeal to the EU for the immediate accession of Ukraine via a new special procedure”, the 44-year-old leader said in a new video address.
Adding: “Our goal is to be together with all Europeans and, most importantly, to be on an equal footing. I am sure it is fair. I am sure it is possible.”

Russia invaded Ukraine last Thursday, sending shockwaves around the world. Ukraine forces, backed by Western arms, have managed to slow the advance of the Russian army.

The Ukrainian military accused Russia of launching a missile strike on residential buildings in the cities of Zhytomyr and Chernigiv, cities in the country’s Northwest and the North.

In a statement ahead of the peace talk yesterday, the Ukrainian Presidency stated that Ukrainian delegation arrived at the Ukrainian-Belarusian border to take part in talks with representatives of the Russian Federation.

They insisted that the key issue for the talks is an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of troops from Ukraine. Zelensky has appealed to Russian soldiers to lay down their weapons and desert as Ukrainian and Russian delegations hold talks on Russia’s invasion.

“Abandon your equipment. Get out of here. Don’t believe your commanders. Don’t believe your propagandists. Just save your lives,” Zelensky said in a new address to Russian forces, claiming that more than 4,500 Russian soldiers had already lost their lives during the Kremlin assault.

At the parley, both sides agreed to return to their capital cities for consultation ahead of a second round of talks, which could take place in the coming days, the Reuters news agency cites Belarus’ Belta news as saying.

The outcome of the negotiations was not made public. The talks carried on for several hours and broke down twice, al Jazeera said, adding that the length of the meeting ‘suggests they had something to talk about.

The Russian delegation head, Vladimir Medinsky, said the two sides had “agreed to keep the negotiations going.” The head of the regional administration in Kharkiv, Oleg Synegubov, said at least 11 people were killed and dozens of others wounded during Russian rocket attacks on the eastern Ukrainian city.

The city, Ukraine’s second-largest, has become one of the major battlegrounds, since Moscow launched its invasion. As thousands flee the crisis, Nigeria’s government has condemned reports that its citizens, and those from other African countries, have been prevented from leaving war-torn Ukraine.

Also, Nigerian government condemned reports of racial discrimination against Africans fleeing Ukraine, urging border officials in Ukraine and neighbouring countries to treat Nigerians equally.

Reports of Polish officials refusing Nigerian citizens entry into Poland from Ukraine was also noted in a statement by Presidential advisor, Garba Shehu. He described as unfortunate, reports of Ukrainian police and security personnel refusing to allow Nigerians to board buses and trains heading towards the Ukraine-Poland border.

“In a widely circulated video on the social media, a Nigerian mother with her young baby were captured being physically forced to give up her seat to another person.

“Africans, including Nigerians joined hundreds of thousands of people trying to escape Ukraine across borders into Poland and other neighbouring countries,’’ Garba stated, adding that officials in security and border management will in most cases, be experiencing impossible expectations in a situation they never expected and for that reason, it was paramount that everyone is treated with dignity and without favour.

While the Ukrainian embassy in Nigeria could not immediately be reached for comments, reports of unfair treatment was dismissed by Poland’s Ambassador to Nigeria, Joanna Tarnawska, insisting that everyone received equal treatment.

“I can assure you that I have reports that already, some Nigerian nationals have crossed the border into Poland,” she clarified. She stated that “Nigerians have 15 days to leave the country or find other arrangements. Even invalid documents were being accepted to cross the border while COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs said a total of 256 Nigerian nationals have moved out of Ukraine and have been received in Romania, Hungary and Poland.

This is out of a total number of about 5600 Nigerians, the majority of whom are students. The Nigeria government stated that its diplomatic mission has received 130 citizens from Ukraine at Bucharest and Romania since last Sunday.

The Permanent Secretary, Ambassador Gabriel Aduda, in a statement also said 74 Nigerians were received at Budapest, Hungary and another 52 in Warsaw, Poland.

“Also, officials at Budapest, Hungary have received and accommodated 74 Nigerians safely, where they are being documented for subsequent travel arrangements back to Nigeria,” Aduda read.

In the statement, the ministry explained that it has also provided accommodation for them, while arrangements are being made to take them back home.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had last Sunday, announced in a statement that Hungary and Romania have approved visa-free access to all Nigerians coming from Ukraine.

“For now, movement to the Hungarian Zahony border and Romanian Suceava, Tulcea, Satu Mare County, and Maramures borders is advised, as they have approved visa-free access to all Nigerians coming from Ukraine,” part of the statement reads.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is fully abreast of all the challenges Nigerians crossing into countries bordering Ukraine, especially the Polish border, are facing and we are taking adequate measures to assuage these challenges.

The Russian invasion has been on for the past four days. Foreign nationals in Ukraine have been stranded, sending a number of pleas to their government to evacuate them.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council voted for the 193-member General Assembly to hold an emergency session on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Monday.
The vote on Sunday to authorise an emergency meeting was 11 in favour, Russia opposed, and China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstained.

That was the exact same vote on a resolution Friday demanding that Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw all troops. But in that case, Russia used its veto and the resolution was defeated.

Ukrainian U.N. Ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya asked for the General Assembly meeting to be held under the so-called “Uniting for Peace” resolution, initiated by the United States and adopted in November 1950 to circumvent vetoes by the Soviet Union during the Korean War.

That resolution gives the General Assembly the power to call emergency meetings when the Security Council is unable to act because of the lack of unanimity among its five veto-wielding permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.

Reacting to the development, Legal icon, Chief Afe Babalola(SAN), has blamed the federal government of poor response to the plights of Nigerians in the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, saying that Putin had issued a long notice of attack to the world before carrying out his threat, which he said prodded other countries like the United States of America to issued travel advisory to their citizens to leave Ukraine.

Babalola, the founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti (ABUAD), said: “Vladimir Putin had given long notice to the whole world that he intended to invade Ukraine. Consequently, many countries including U.S. advised their citizens to leave Ukraine.

“Nigeria was visibly inactive. At the time when it dawned on Nigeria to evacuate Nigerians, including students from Ukraine, the airports had been disabled and missiles were flying day and night. Nigeria has more than 5,600 students and numberless Nigerians who are either studying or working in Ukraine,’’ he said.

Also reacting, a presidential aspirant for 2023 general election, Dumebi Kachikwu, called on the government to urgently evacuate Nigerians trapped in Ukraine. He insisted that government must redouble its efforts and act fast to ensure that Nigerian citizens in Ukraine don’t suffer avoidable harm and casualties.

He insisted that Nigeria cannot afford to allow its citizens, especially students, to be part of the collateral damage now engulfing Ukraine as the United Nations failed to stop Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine.

“I call on President Buhari to give the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama and the Chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Abike Dabiri-Erewa, deadline to fully evacuate all Nigerians in Ukraine, especially students.

“I call on Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) to immediately condemn this unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

“When good men keep quiet in the face of evil, it thrives. China waits in the wings watching the reaction of the world as she prepares to attack Taiwan. Enough of international hooliganism and gangsterism,” Kachikwu declared.