(GIN)—At least 1,700 foreign students are still trapped in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Sumy, as shelling from the Russian army continues for a tenth day. Promised humanitarian corridors have failed to materialize.
“We are really demoralized, everybody wants to go home,” Precious Ogunbayo, a 21-year-old medical student from Nigeria, told Al Jazeera. “We keep asking for help, but it’s not coming at all.”
According to one student interviewed by the Premium Times paper of Nigeria, the group was contacted by the Nigerian Embassy in Russia about a possible evacuation into Russia. But many students rejected the idea considering the sanctions on Russia which could mean “we may get trapped in the country or just simply the fact that they are the enemy in this whole story, we could end up as hostages. It was not a good idea at all.” About 400 Nigerian students are currently in Sumy, the second largest group of foreign students after Indians. Other students include citizens of Ghana, Rwanda, Turkmenistan, Jordan and Palestine.
Like many others, Ogunbayo tried to flee the city, but taxi or bus drivers charged up to $400 per person when they could still be found cruising the streets. “You would have to be lucky to find a driver that knows the way and is willing to risk his life,” Ogunbayo said, adding that some who tried to escape with their own cars were shot at and returned to Sumy.
Many of the trapped Nigerians are graduate school students in Sumy. Premium Times of Nigeria spoke to several about how they survived multiple bombings by Russia.
“March 3 was one of the most terrifying days,” Samuel Otunla, a graduate degree student in veterinary medicine recalled. “Once we got the safety warning and arrived in the basement, we heard one of the loudest explosions and in a few minutes, electricity went off—not just in our area but all over the city. Water was also off. Though it was restored 17 hours later, it was an uncomfortable experience.”
A few days into the invasion, the students had seen corpses of Russian soldiers lying on the streets as they stepped out to get groceries, he said.
The only response from the Nigerian government (and other African governments as he heard) is to help students who have crossed the border to neighboring countries. But “we are 1,300 kilometers from the border so that doesn’t help us, at least not yet,” Otunla told Chiamaka Okafor, a Premium Times reporter.
Elizabeth Murimwa, in a letter from parents of African students stuck in Sumy, begged the United Nations and relevant governments to ensure their children are safely evacuated.
“They are at risk of becoming collateral damage in a war they know nothing about. Negative racist sentiments have already been displayed and the children are scared and in bunkers three quarters of the day surrounded by gunfire. The Indian government is already negotiating for its citizens hence we would like to request help.