HUNDREDS of Nigerians are believed to be among the thousands of civilians evacuated from the town of Sumy in northeastern Ukraine after the belligerents agreed to a brief ceasefire so they could leave via a safety corridor.
For nearly two weeks now, Ukraine and Russia have been involved in a bloody war that has resulted in all foreigners leaving the country. There are about 5,600 Nigerian students in Ukraine, most of them studying medicine and over the last week, they have been flown back to Abuja via neighbouring countries like Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.
Last week, Nigeria’s federal cabinet approved a sum of $8.5m as funding for the evacuation of refugees stranded in Ukraine and its neighbours. As soon as the money was released, Air Peace and Max Air airlines began evacuating Nigerians, with flights landing at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja.
However, students trapped in Sumy were unable to benefit from the airlift as the town had been cut off with its roads and bridges blown up. After over a week of negotiations, the two sides finally agreed to a ceasefire and the establishment of a safe corridor to allow those trapped in Sumy to leave.
According to the Russian military, its commanders introduced a ceasefire and opened humanitarian corridors’ in five cities. These include the capital Kiev and the major cities of Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Sumy and the embattled port city of Mariupol.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian president’s office, said a total of 61 buses left Sumy for Poltava on Tuesday. He added that among the passengers were 1,100 foreign students, some of them believed to be Nigerians.
Deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk, pointed out that around 5,000 Ukrainians and around 1,700 foreign students were taken to safety on Tuesday. She added that they were bused to Poltava in central Ukraine, Lviv in the west and neighbouring European Union countries.
Sumy is only about 30 kilometres from the Russian border, making it particularly vulnerable to attacks from Russian troops. Oleksandr Kubrakov, Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, estimated that the damage wrought so far on Ukraine’s transport infrastructure by the war came to about $10bn.