THE AFTERMATH: How Nigerians who escaped Russia-Ukraine war are faring in Europe
Paul Umuche, a 26-year-old Nigerian student, heard a huge explosion from his apartment in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. When Umuche read the news and saw that Ukraine was being invaded, he told his roommate, another Nigerian, that they had to leave the city. As news of the invasion circulated, frantic evacuation efforts across the country started. “Everybody was confused and wanted to leave for safety,” he said. They arrived at Lviv the next morning after driving for more than 10 hours. “It was a treacherous journey,” Umuche recalls the walk to the border. Once at the border, Umuche and other foreigners fleeing the war said Ukrainian border guards would not let them pass through. Umuche and other refugees refused to go back to Ukraine and instead, decided to fight back. On the third day, they decided to break the barricade which had been placed at the border and force their way into the Polish territory. “When we wanted to enter the train, they started pushing us out and said it was only for Ukrainians,” said Alexander Orah, another Nigerian student who lived in Kyiv.
Orah, who was travelling to the Ukrainian-Polish border through Lviv, said the officials later told them that the train was for women and children only. As the discrimination continued, Orah started sharing posts about it on Twitter to raise awareness. But that was not the end: After Orah and other refugees arrived at the border, the guards would not let them in and asked them to go to the Romanian border. When a scuffle ensued at the border, one of the soldiers pulled out his gun and threatened to shoot anyone who dared to move. After the long stand-off, Orah and other refugees decided to break the barricade and started heading toward the Polish border. Orah was at a reception centre in Poland for two weeks before moving to Berlin. Umuche and other refugees who fled the war are stuck in different parts of Europe with no idea of how their lives would turn from there. The war, currently in its fourth month, has escalated into one of Europe’s largest refugee and humanitarian crises in recent times. In Ukraine’s neighbouring countries, refugees are housed at reception centres where they are provided with temporary shelter, food and medical care. Less than two weeks into the war, the European Union (EU) activated its temporary protection directive and said the refugees are entitled to social welfare payments and access to housing, medical treatment and schools.
“The situation is precarious and that’s why we have to step in to help where we can,” said Orkan Oezdemir, a member of the Berlin house of representatives. Oezdemir said the refugees receive social security grants of €400 per month, housing and health insurance. “We have a lot of African students from Ukraine and what we want to do is to give them visas for three years to complete their studies in Germany,” said Oezdemir who is also the spokesperson for integration and anti-racism. In March, the Nigerian government began the evacuation of Nigerians fleeing the war. Last year, he arrived in Ukraine to study management at the State University of Telecommunication in Kyiv and had just finished the first semester before the war truncated his program. Orah said he has ruled out a return to Ukraine even if the war ends. Now in Berlin, Umuche is seeking to start a new life and forget about everything he lost to the war in Ukraine. “After my bachelor’s program, I knew I had to leave the country to seek better opportunities abroad because the situation at home was bad,” he said. At the Union Station in Berlin where thousands of refugees from Ukraine arrive each day, Umuche is currently staying in a temporary shelter provided at the station.
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