Ukrainian attractiveness starts with education then a better life
By Jeph Ajobaju, Editor-in-Chief
Nigeria began evacuating its 5,000 citizens from Ukraine last February and by Sunday around 1,000 had been airlifted via Romania, Poland and Hungary funded by an $8.5 million budget, $100 of which will also be paid to each evacuee.
Many of them were students in Ukraine. Some had graduated, married Ukrainians and settled into a bright future until Russia invaded its southwestern neighbor unprovoked on February 24.
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Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama said there were about 5,600 Nigerian students and around 8,000 other Nigerian citizens in Ukraine before the war.
More than 1.5 million Ukrainians and foreigners have fled Ukraine since the invasion, with the United Nations warning that “at this rate” the exodus could become “the biggest refugee crisis of this century “.
Returning to Nigeria is not an option
However, many Nigerians said they have a better life in Ukraine and do not want to return to their home country. Those who returned were literally forced to do so.
“I will stay here and see if the situation improves. Going back to Nigeria is not an option,” Desmond Muokwudo told the BBC.
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“I will apply for a student permit and continue my life from here,” Lukman Ibrahim, a student and artist who was able to flee Ukraine to Poland, told Channels Television. “Because the house is not safe, everyone knows that.”
Insisting on what he meant by “not sure”, Ibrahim, who studied at the European International University in Kyiv before the invasion, alluded to the fuel shortage that has plagued Nigeria for four weeks.
“You now expect me to come home and face the same thing when I just survived a war? I would never do that,” he said.
Emeka Nnamdi, stuck in Sumy, Ukraine, prefers to go home, but only for a short time.
“I am currently doing my masters here,” Nnamdi said.
“I finished my six years of medicine here. And I’m doing a specialty course, which will take me three years. But if I do a specialty course in Nigeria, it will take me more than five years, even seven years. So why should I go home?
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What will happen after I arrive in Nigeria on a free flight?
“What am I coming back to Nigeria to do? Has anything changed in our country? Nnamdi Okafor wondered in an interview with The Niche.
“For now, I am still in Ukraine. I used to live in the capital, Kyiv, but moved to one of the border towns which is relatively safe now.
“But if the war succeeds, I will flee to another country by the grace of God. But if death becomes my destiny, so be it. I would rather be a refugee here than go back to Nigeria.
Why won’t he take advantage of the Nigerian government’s free evacuation to return home? LeNiche demand.
“Brother, the question you should have asked is why I left Nigeria in the first place. I came to Ukraine two years ago.
“Before, I had stayed in Nigeria for five years after my youth service without work. My country abused me psychologically. I was frustrated and unhappy. I almost lost hope in life. I was depressed.
“But it only took me two months to get a good job when I arrived in Ukraine at the beginning of 2020. Without this senseless war, life started to have meaning for me again.
“So if I jump on the plane because I saw a free flight, what happens after I get off in Abuja or Lagos or wherever? Has anything changed in Nigeria? I now get the job, the absence of which forced me to leave?
” I’m not coming back. This war will end one day. But if not, we will decide what to do next. But returning to Nigeria is out of the question at the moment. And be careful, I’m not the only one staying there.
“Students who were sent here by their wealthy parents to study can return home, but I doubt an economic migrant like me dares to do so.”
So what in the first place attracted them to Ukraine, whose language they did not speak originally and had to learn from scratch? And why would they want to stay put despite different social values and pockets of discrimination, even racism?
Number of students
The BBC reports below what attracted Nigerians, other Africans and Indians to the Eastern European country and why some find life so fulfilling that they choose to stay:
The Russian invasion of Ukraine caused a mass exodus of civilians, including thousands of international students from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Ukraine was home to more than 76,000 foreign students, according to 2020 government data.
Almost a quarter of the students were from Africa, with the largest numbers coming from Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt.
India easily accounts for the highest share with over 20,000 students.
Students – who study medicine, engineering and commerce – are an important part of the country’s economy.
But, as Russia launches the biggest European invasion since World War II, thousands have fled, hundreds are still trapped and many remain uncertain about the fate of their upbringing.
Attraction of Ukraine
Ukraine has a long history of attracting foreign students, dating back to the Soviet era, when there was a lot of investment in higher education and a deliberate attempt to attract students from newly independent African countries.
Today, Ukrainian universities are considered a gateway to the European labor market, offering affordable course prices, easy visa requirements and the possibility of permanent residence.
“Ukrainian degrees are widely recognized and offer a high standard of education,” said Patrick Esugunum, who works for an organization that helps West African students wishing to study in Ukraine.
“A lot of medical students especially want to go there because they have a good standard for medical facilities,” he added.
Desmond Chinaza Muokwudo, a Nigerian student who was based in the city of Dnipro, said he was attracted by the relaxed admission requirements and the cheap cost of living compared to other European cities.
He enrolled at the University of Customs and Finance less than three months ago.
Many courses are offered in English, but the 30-year-old took a preliminary course in Ukrainian before embarking on studies in international relations.
“I was a welder in Nigeria and needed an education to get things done,” he told the BBC from a hostel in Poland after fleeing the conflict.
“Ukraine was the best option for me.”
where the students now
Like Muokwudo, more than 10,000 other African students have managed to flee the conflict and enter neighboring countries, according to the EU.
There are reports of foreign students facing racist treatment at the border, with images on social media showing Ukrainian officials preventing some from crossing.
Hundreds of students are still believed to be in Ukraine, but exact numbers are difficult to confirm.
An Indian student was killed as he ventured outside to buy food.
Christophe, a 22-year-old student from Cameroon, spoke to the BBC from inside a basement in the southern city of Kherson, which has been taken by Russian forces.
“We don’t go out because we are afraid.”
He said he and more than 20 comrades had spent the past week in an unlit basement, listening to the sound of shells and gunfire.
“It’s like a ghost town, there’s no one outside at all.”
He said he had seen no signs of harassment from Africans during the conflict, but he thought it was wise to stay indoors.
“It’s the safest thing to do right now, we don’t want to put ourselves in danger.”
The international business student was one year into his bachelor’s degree at Kherson National Technical University when the fighting started.
“It’s hard to imagine finishing your studies in this kind of environment,” he says.
In another part of town, Mamady Doumbouya, a computer science student from Guinea, said: “I want to go back to my country, you can’t study in the war.
He spoke to the BBC from inside a dark basement surrounded by his classmates from Gabon, Senegal and Cameroon.
“We don’t have water, we don’t have light,” he says.
What are governments doing to help
Ukraine halted all civilian flights when the invasion began on February 24.
African governments have been scrambling to evacuate their citizens from the country, with some organizing return flights to those crossing the border.
Ghana was the first African country to welcome a group of students home on March 1.
Speaking to the BBC after landing in the capital, Accra, student Jared Otumfuo Catey said: “A few days ago I didn’t know I would be here right now. I am grateful to have succeeded and I am safe.
Nigeria said it would follow suit and offer flights for those wishing to return via Romania, Hungary and Poland.
South Africa’s ambassador to Ukraine told the BBC he had to leave Ukraine for his own safety, but had worked hard to secure the exit of South Africans and other foreigners from the country .
South African ambassadors to Poland and Hungary also traveled to the borders to help people cross, he said.
The Ukrainian government has launched a hotline for fleeing Africans and Asians, according to the foreign minister.
In one TweeterDmytro Kuleba said authorities were “working intensely” to ensure the safety and passage of African and Asian students.
Will they be able to complete their studies?
Having invested a lot of money in an education in Ukraine, many students told the BBC they were torn between returning home or staying in Europe to complete their studies.
Jessica Orakpo, a sixth-year medical student at Ternopil National Medical University, was four months away from graduating when Russian troops invaded.
“I’m stuck now, I can’t continue my studies because my school has all my documents,” she told the BBC as she traveled to the Hungarian capital, Budapest.
“I don’t have time to start all over again and I just want to graduate. I may be able to finish my masters somewhere else.
Foreign students in Ukraine get temporary residency for the duration of their studies, but this does not extend to neighboring countries.
Muokwudo said he will try to complete his run elsewhere in Europe, if all else fails.
“I will stay here and see if the situation improves,” he said.
“Returning to Nigeria is not an option.”