Untold Stories of Nigerian Students in Ukraine War Zone (Part II)
This is a sequel to an earlier post about the experiences of Nigerian students studying in Ukraine following the Russian invasion of the country.
Why study in Ukraine?
What would make young people travel far away from family and friends to look for what is available at home?
Nigerians who were studying in Ukraine before the war said they preferred it because of the country’s affordability, accessibility, and uninterrupted academic system.
An undergraduate at a Ukrainian University, Fisola Bankole, said education in the country is affordable.
“For me, it’s a more economical option. I have been there for more than six years. It’s cheaper if you compare the cost of studying in Ukraine and other European countries or the US,” he said.
Amina Sadiq a final year medical student in Ukraine said that she chose the country because of its mode of teaching.
She said, “I came to Ukraine to study because the mode of teaching is more practical than theory because we take our lectures in hospitals.”
Many students who spoke to our correspondent including the leader of Nigerian students in Sumy, Moses Fehintola, also noted that studying in Ukraine was a better option economically.
A parent, Agbeniyi Adebanjo, said he opted for Ukraine when his son could not gain admission into his Nigerian university of choice.
“He had picked Obafemi Awolowo University and he passed the entrance examination, but he was denied admission”.
“He also passed the second year, unfortunately, he was told to go elsewhere if he wanted to study Medicine,” Agbeniyi stated.
It was at that time someone advised him to send the boy to Ukraine and he did because of affordability and ease of admission.
Another parent, Emmanuel Yusuf argued that parents who send their children abroad were not doing it for tourism.
He explained that the Nigerian system is frustrating and referred to how his two older children were denied admission despite being qualified to study the courses they applied for.
“We sent our children abroad out of a passion for them to get the best. Like now the universities (Nigerian) are on strike, what hope do we have for our children?”
“So, it’s one of the reasons most of the parents will skip some meals and try hard to send their children aboard. It’s not luxury,” Mr. Yusuf explained.
Melody Jacob, 27, a third-year Ph.D. student in Ukraine said she had her first degree in Medicine and a Master’s degree in Hospital Management in the same country.
“When I left for Ukraine, I was a minor, and was my father’s decision. But I realised that his decision was right because it was faster”.
“There was no strike, the system is open. You can see what’s happening and I prefer the environment.” Melody said.
A concerned citizen, Olatunde Oladoyinbo acknowledged that the Nigerian government’s investment in higher education in the last three decades has been everything but impressive.
Mr. Oladoyinbo, a Nigerian-trained medical doctor agreed that the cost of medical education in countries like Ukraine was low when compared to what obtains in other countries.
The chairperson of Nigerians in Diaspora, NIDO, Poland, Dr. Tade Omotoso, said studying in Ukraine is a form of exposure.
“You see now, there is ASUU strike. A student that is to spend four years is now spending six, seven, eight years.”
“Will you blame such for leaving even at 3rd year and going somewhere in Europe or America to start 100 level because he will graduate faster than the colleague that he left in 300 level,” Dr. Omotoso argued.
Why we stayed back in Europe
Despite the Ukraine crisis and its ramifications for other European countries, some Nigerian students have chosen to remain in Europe rather than return home, even when the government offered to bring them back.
Boluwatife Daramola who is studying for a second degree said he chose Poland because it is a Shenzhen zone from where he could go to other 29 countries.
Damilola Ayeni, another student who to Germany, insisted that Nigeria is not safe territory.
“Nigerians are not even safe in their country not to talk of people who are coming from Europe to now return to Nigeria that is not safe,” he said.
Anthonia Oraezim, 20, said she chose to stay in Hungary because her return to Europe to continue her studies was uncertain.
One would have assumed that an average Nigerian mother would prefer to have her child back home after what happened in Ukraine.
But Faith Ajufo whose son stays back in Hungary after fleeing Ukraine said, “We prefer him to be in Hungary to continue because we didn’t want his studies disrupted.”
In the same vein, the chairperson of NIDO, Poland, Dr. Omotoso said for someone who is in the fifth-year medical school and has just one year to go, going back to Nigeria may not be wise.
He, however, stressed the need for the fleeing students to get residency permits wherever they decide to stay.
“Why will you want to go back home if there is no hope of even being able to continue your studies. So, some of them will prefer just to hang around here (Poland) and they are thinking of what next to do with their lives,” Omotoso said.
Why some returned home
Some students like Jedidah Yusuf said although they preferred the academic advantage in Ukraine, it is safer to be at home.
“After this war, I don’t think I want to stay in Europe or any part of Europe again. I don’t trust Russia; they can still wake up one morning and decide to attack them because it can happen again. I don’t want to experience it the second time,” Jedidah expressed her fears.
Moses Fehintola on his part explained that he came back to Nigeria because of the insistence of his parents.
“I felt I have opportunities in Nigeria that will help me more to grow rather than be in a European country”.
He added that it is helpful and cheaper for his parents to have him in Nigeria than to stay over in Europe.
How NGOs and international bodies helped
The International Organisation on Migration (IOM) plays a prominent role in ensuring the safety of migrants during crises.
Its Public Information Officer in Nigeria, Stylia Kampani, said the IOM deployed its staff to the migrating countries like Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Hungary to meet the urgent needs of the people.
She explained that people who travel outside of their home country for educational purposes are treated as third-country nationals under international law and local rules.
Madawaki-Umar, the chairperson of Nigerians in Diaspora (NIDO), Hungary, said the office gave fleeing students shelter and food, and organised psychological treatments for them.
He added that they have a plan to train Nigerian students and other Africans who did not want to return home due to a lack of funds to continue their studies.
“We are trying to organize a kind of skill acquisition for those who remain here to be able to get a job to do so that they can finance their studies elsewhere in Europe.”
“We solicit financial support to continue the rescue mission for people affected by the war in Ukraine,” he pleaded.
Students, he argued, could be lured into illegal activities like drug trafficking and prostitution if their basic needs are not met.
Online study to the rescue
The Nigerian Government has assured students whose studies have been disrupted by the war in Ukraine would not forfeit their admission.
The Director, Consular Legal Department, Foreign Affairs Ministry, Bolaji Akinremi said that the Ukrainian universities have communicated their plans to the government.
Ambassador Akinremi while receiving the students said, “Your schools have written to us about the possibility of online study, but whatever happens, you will not lose any year. Be assured.”
As promised, the Ukrainian schools kicked off online schooling in March 2022.
But a student, Fisola Bankole, who admitted that physical class remained the best, said the online alternative was not a bad option either.
He said, “It just felt like we just continued what we were doing when Covid-19 started we had to move some of our classes online, like those classes that were not absolutely necessary to go to the class for.”
However, some of the students who are back in Nigeria have complained of fluctuating internet connectivity and the high cost of data for online classes.
A leader of students, Fehintola Moses said the Nigerian students who fled from the war in Ukraine need a whole lot of help.
According to him, those who stayed back in European countries after they fled Ukraine are not sure of what the future holds for them concerning their education.
Kolawole Adetonwa, a returning student from Ukraine, said living and education costs in Hungary are high and students are struggling to make ends meet.
“It has been difficult for everybody. Even a haircut can be up to N20,000,” Kolawole lamented.
He said some Nigerian students have temporary admission to a Hungarian medical school, which they attend alongside online classes from their Ukrainian schools.
Continuing, he said, “Accommodation in Europe is very expensive and it’s going to be difficult for somebody that has no job.
“A temporary resident has no chance of getting into school because we cannot afford the schools. And schools are not even trying to negotiate with us.”
He, therefore, solicited assistance in all areas so Nigerian students can continue their studies in Hungary.
Enny Toye, another student who stayed back in Hungary, said it was difficult to survive, but she was lucky to get some help.
“Most of my friends were not so graced because they struggle for everything. There weren’t people to grant the accommodation. They had problems getting things because we left our things in Ukraine.”
“I came here (Hungary) with two clothes, my phone, and my laptop and some of my books, that’s all. Some people didn’t even come here with any extra change of cloth,” Enny said.
She also lamented that the money she brought from Ukraine was devalued on arrival in Hungary.
Ambassador Akinremi, however, said Nigeria was not confident in the online teaching plans by Ukrainian schools.
“What we have done is to talk to neighbouring countries and as of now, arrangements had been concluded with Romania and Bulgaria,” Akinremi confirmed.
He maintained that the Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffery Onyeama, had visited both countries in May 2022 to concretise the arrangements.
“Some of the schools offer free tuition to students who were in Ukraine before who wish to continue in Bulgaria. The same thing with Romania and Hungary”.
“Some of them have taken that option, but I think the majority of parents are not confident to want them to continue in that region,” Mr. Akinremi argued.
He maintained the industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities in Nigeria, ASUU, since February 2022 remains a major challenge for students who may wish to continue schooling in Nigeria.
But Dr. Oladoyinbo has argued that students need more than online classes for a course like Medicine.
“Medicine is both academic and practical. It’s a whole lot of clinical stuff and you must pass at every stage before you are adjudged to be qualified,” Mr. Oladoyinbo explained.
He advised the Nigerian education ministry to work with its Ukrainian counterpart to link their universities with Nigerian universities willing to accept students.
He advised those in their first year of medical school to transfer to another university and start over because they were still at the basic science level.
This investigation was supported by the Norbert Zongo Cell on Investigative Journalism in West Africa (CENOZO), in collaboration with United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as part of the Media Support Initiative for the Dissemination of Investigative Journalism on Migration in West and Central Africa project.