Sumy: More Than 500 International Students Trapped In Ukrainian Town Battered By Shelling

Sumy: More Than 500 International Students Trapped In Ukrainian Town Battered By Shelling

It has been revealed that students, mostly Nigerian, stranded in town 40km from the northeast border which has become a war zone.

More than 500 international students are trapped in Sumy, a town 40km from Ukraine’s northeast border that has been battered by days of shelling by Russian forces.

Most of the students are Nigerian, while others are from Ghana, Ethiopia, Angola, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ireland, India, Lebanon and Turkey. They have all suddenly found themselves stranded in a war zone

Trains and buses have stopped running; roads and bridges out of the city have been destroyed and fighting has been reported in the city’s streets.

The students have remained in five hostel buildings since the Russian invasion began last week, after advice from their university to stay behind – even as many Ukrainian students fled.

Oluwaseun Adefemi, a Nigerian medical student who arrived in Sumy in January, said that food and water supplies were already running low and it was no longer safe to head to local stores.

“We are hearing blasts every day. We have to run into our bunkers each time. Yesterday we heard the blasts at six or seven in the morning. When we hear them, we run to the basement – that’s our makeshift bunker,” he said, speaking by telephone late on Wednesday.

“We are running out of food, we’re running out of water. What we have now is mainly soda water,” Adefemi said.

While the conflict has so far mainly focused on the outskirts of the city, fears are rising that troops may soon enter the city.

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Adefami said that many of the students felt let down by the university. “We expected that the school would give us the best information. They told us to stay in our hostel, to stock and buy food that we’d need for the days ahead. If we’d have known we’d have gone to neighbouring cities – but now we are stuck.”

Before the conflict, thousands of international students were studying in Ukraine, drawn by low fees and living costs and the legacy of close ties between the Soviet Union and developing countries, especially in Africa.

Some students said they had initially stayed because they feared they would have to retake classes and pay further tuition and accommodation fees if they left.

Racheal Diyaolu, a 19-year-old medical student from Carlow, is one of three Irish students in the group who arrived in Ukraine in November. She said was reassured by tutors two weeks ago that Russian threats of invasion were just that.

She said she was trying to stay positive. “We are taking each day as it comes and just hoping the situation resolves itself,” she said. “There is not much more you can do.”

While the sounds of “bangs and ammunition” surround them, the students have been told that Sumy remains under Ukrainian control, she said.

“It’s up and down. We are safe for the time being, but it can get scary at times,” she said. In phone calls last week and again on Wednesday, Ireland’s department for foreign affairs had advised her to stay put for the moment, she said.

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Diyaolu was more concerned for her mother back in Ireland, she said. “She is very, very worried. It is not an easy thing for any mother to go through but I just hope I will be home soon”.

Train and bus services out of Sumy are suspended and, while the conflict has so far mainly focused on the outskirts of the city, fears are rising that troops may soon enter the city.

Some drivers in Sumy have offered to take students to other regions, charging as much as 1,600 dollars to drive them to Poltava, 175km south of Sumy. But many students cannot afford such inflated fees.

Foreign citizens of colour, mainly students from Africa and Asia, have faced discrimination and violence as they’ve attempted to flee Ukraine.

In response to outrage at reported abuse by Ukrainian border officials, security forces and local groups, the foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba said yesterday an emergency hotline had been setup for African, Asian and other students wishing to leave Ukraine. “We are working intensively to ensure their safety & speed up their passage. Russia must stop its aggression, which affects us all,” he said.

A spokesperson for Ireland’s government said “Irish citizens currently in Ukraine are advised to shelter in a secure place” adding they should only consider leaving “if they judge it safe to do so”.

A spokesperson for Ireland’s government said “Irish citizens currently in Ukraine are advised to shelter in a secure place” adding they should only consider leaving “if they judge it safe to do so”.

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Nigeria’s government said it was working on securing safe passage for its students from Russia, through appeals made by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) UN agencies, but that progress was slow.

Nearby churches are also involved in trying to supply food to the students, yet packages have grown less frequent as the conflict has appeared more intense.

Toluwalase Kolapo-Bello, a medical student from Lagos, has been in Sumy for four years and said that much of Sumy was gripped with fear.

“We’ve been surrounded by Russian troops and soldiers for days now, crying out for help.

“We are just ordinary students who came here to get a degree, to further our education and our career. We just want to go home and see our families.”

Source: TheGuardian

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