From Okwe Obi, Abuja
The ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine has thrown the European Union into a state of pandemonium and truncated the future of millions of people mostly foreigners.
Unaccountable number of people have been reportedly killed, thousands have fled Ukraine for safety and state-of-the-art facilities bombed.
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The crux of the crisis stemmed partly from Ukraine’s interest to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which Russia saw as a treat to its sovereignty.
Not even the plethora of sanctions slammed on Russia and its President, Vladimir Putin, by the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union have deterred Russia from forging ahead with its destructive venture.
Rattled by the ugly development, the Federal Government swung into action and sought the services of MaxAir, Azman Air and Air Peace Airlines, to evacuate Nigerian citizens from Ukraine, Poland and Hungary.
So far, a total of 896 Nigerians have been evacuated with 415 Nigerians arriving in Abuja in MaxAir Limited Flight VM602 from Bucharest, Romania, on March 4.
Then another set numbering 181 touched down at about 6:40p.m in Air Peace Airline on March 4. Then followed by 301 Nigerians, including an infant who sauntered into the country on March 13.
The embattled returnees were received by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Director General of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mustapha Ahmed, among others.
As part of arrangements to receive the returnees, the Head of Media and Public Relations, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Abdur-Rahman Balogun, disclosed that the Federal Government would dole out $100 to each returnees to aid transportation to their various destinations.
The government has distributed over N38 million to the returnees going by the exchange rate $100 to naira (N42,000), to returnees for transportation.
Shedding more light on where the money came from, Umar Farouq said: “Mr President directed that money should be made available and that is the most important thing.
“Mr President has the powers to direct for funds to be provided. You know it is an emergency and we had to act promptly and the money was in dollars and we had to pay the airlines in dollars.”
Upon their arrival, Sun Sunday discovered that the returnees were not subjected to the mandatory COVID-19 test.
But the Minister, Farouq explained that, “we have their documents. We are going to test them for COVID-19. So, there is going to be contact tracing and whoever has issues we will follow up.”
Speaking on the evacuation process, the Director of Consular and Legal Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Amb. Akinremi Bolaji, said some of them mostly students, never wanted to return home.
Bolaji explained that when the shellings and killings became intense, some accepted the offer to return home.
He added that government would continue to monitor the situation and if need be, evacuate more citizens who are ready to leave the war zones.
“It is God that made it possible so we give Him all the glory. We need to thank President Muhammadu Buhari for all the support because even when we were there we were receiving encouraging words directly from him.
“The work became expanded than we expected because there were a lot of hesitation and the report we were getting were that they will not want to come and that really worried us.
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“We had wanted to go with two aircraft to Poland alone and the two aircraft were set in Lagos. But the time we called for the last time were told to come with one. So we went with one which was to take 180 passengers.
“And by the time we got there, we thought they would be at the airport. I think the delay over night made them not to come to the airport.
“So we had to go and look for them in the city. That took more time. By the time we finished bringing them from the hotel five hours had gone,” he said.
Some of the evacuees who spoke to Sunday Sun appreciated the Nigerian government for coming to their rescue, adding that they would have died.
While recounting her experience, Usman Jamila, a 400-level medical student, said, “we just had some fear that we were going to lose ourselves in Ukraine; we would not see our families again because of the fear of the bombings.
“But later on, after we departed to our state to Poland, our experience was not that bad because the Ukrainians helped from my side of experience. We got everything free; flight ticket, to bus fair, in fact, everything was free.
“The Nigerian government provided food, houses and hotel accomodations. I cannot say anything regarding bad experience.
Asked if she was discriminated against, she said, “for sure there was discrimination. But from my own end, I was not discriminated.”
On the school being on hold, she said: “That is our fear because I am left with just two years to graduate. Our education has changed. So we do not even know what to do and our fate is hanging in the balance. We are scared. But, our school promised that we will be having online lectures. Online classes may start in March.”
In addition, a 21-year-old medical student, Ireoluwa Adeyemi, said he had to hide underground for over 24 hours in Kharkiv.
Contrary to Jamila’s experience, Adeyemi said he was discriminated and had violent encounters with people from other countries.
He said: “I’m happy being home. It was not easy for us at all. We experienced racism and had so many violent encounters with people, but one thing I must admit is that Nigeria came through for us. We are very proud the Federal Government exceeded our expectations.
“However, at some point, I was very afraid I may not see my parents again. I had to run underground in Kharkiv, Ukraine for over 24 hours.
“All through the period, I was underground, I kept hearing gunshots. I thought all hope was lost.
“I believe one day, I will go back to school. It is actually something that is very painful and nobody wants to experience that reality.”
Meanwhile, a 300-level medical student, who pleaded anonymity, said she was ready to return to Ukraine to further her education.
The River State indigene said: “I am 100 per cent ready to return to Ukraine. I am not scared. Once everything is resolved and safe for us to get back, I will definitely go back.
“Even if it is tomorrow, I am ready to return to Ukraine. I do not have any plans of relocating to Nigeria to further my education.”