Nigerian student "has no choice but to return to study" because of the Ukraine war

Azeez Oyewumi Olawale

Oyewumi Azeez Olawale navigates the congested traffic in Lagos, Nigeria's capital, on his way to a visa appointment.

The Nigerian medical student was frantically trying to leave Ukraine safely just a year ago after the Russian bombardment started on February 24.

But since he had no other viable options for further education, he later returned to Ukraine for another term. He now desires a return trip.

The 28-year-old stated, "I am returning to Ukraine because I need to complete my final year, take my exams, and receive my certificate. .

He continued, "In Nigeria, I have no options.".

Nearly a quarter of the more than 80,000 international students studying in Ukraine in 2020 were from Africa.

As they search for a place to finish their studies, some are considering going back to Ukraine.

Mr. Olawale found the decision to be simple.

The Nigerian Medical and Dental Council (MCDN) announced in July 2022 that it would stop accepting online degrees from Ukrainian universities. Two months later, the Medical Council of Ghana imitated it.

Mr. Olawale stated, "I needed to complete my degree in person.".

He was fortunate that the location of his school was far from the front lines.

Mr. Olawale is a senior at the National University in Uzhgorod, which is located in western Ukraine close to the Slovakian border and has largely been spared from the effects of the war.

According to Mr. Olawale, "My city is safe and it's the best option for me.".

Not everyone has been as fortunate.

Because of its simple visa procedures, affordable tuition rates, and high educational standards, Ukraine was a popular destination for those looking for affordable education in Europe.

Many students simply did not have the option of going home broke after years of saving money for their degrees.

But it hasn't been simple for them to find a new nation to finish their studies.

One of those thinking about going back is Jessica Orakpo, the Nigerian medical student who experienced racism while attempting to leave Ukraine last year and whose story received extensive media coverage.

She first ran away to Hungary before relocating to the Netherlands, where she is currently staying with a host family.

If she doesn't find a skilled job, her temporary visa will expire in a month.

She earned her medical degree in 2022 and is now a licensed doctor, but she says it has been difficult to find employment because she does not speak Dutch.

"The only choices I have are to remain here or return to Ukraine.

When asked why she shouldn't just return to Nigeria, Dr. Orakpo said, "Some people say why don't you just go back to Nigeria, but they don't understand, that's easier said than done.

I want to practice medicine, I have a goal in life," she said, adding that it is difficult because of the security situation in Nigeria.

If she went back to Nigeria, she claimed it would be nearly impossible to obtain a visa because she hasn't had a permanent address or bank account since leaving the nation in 2016.

Fehintola “Moses” Damilola
For their final exams, some of Fehintola "Moses" Damilola's classmates have returned to Sumy.

Fehintola "Moses" Damilola, a Nigerian medical student who had been enrolled in Sumy, a border town with Russia, struggled, like many other medical students, to continue his coursework online, particularly after the authorities declared that an online degree would not be recognized.

Since then, everyone has been rushing, Mr. Damilola said.

He said, "I don't want to go back to Ukraine right now.". Being trapped in Sumy as the bombardment started and finding it difficult to flee proved to be extremely traumatic, he continued.

However, Mr. Damilola is aware of Indian students who have returned as the end-of-the-year exams draw near.

Exams from the previous year were waived due to the conflict. However, the Ukrainian exam authority has announced that this year's exam will take place in person on March 14 in Kyiv.

The email to students stated that attending meant agreeing to "accept all safety risks" by signing a waiver.

There are "140 computer testing centers all over the world" as an alternative for those "who do not want to return to Ukraine," though the timing of that is still uncertain.

We don't really have many options, Mr. Damilola said.

"A lot of us are considering returning because the test centers in other nations do not appear to be feasible at this time. ".

According to the UNHCR, nearly eight million people have escaped Ukraine to nearby European nations.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that 625,000 of them were non-Ukrainian citizens, but cautioned that some individuals may have been counted more than once.

Numerous groups of students have spent months moving around the continent in search of a secure nation where they can finish their degrees.

Many people have become mired in intricate bureaucracy.

Since many scholarships are only available to Ukrainian citizens, attending a university abroad frequently entails a lengthy visa application process, language requirements, and high tuition costs.

According to Nine Fumi Yamamoto of BIPoC Ukraine, a Berlin-based organization assisting people of color fleeing the war, "European governments have welcomed Ukrainians with open arms.".

However, she noted that foreign nationals fleeing the same conflict had not been as fortunate.

When it first implemented its Temporary Protection Directive (TPD), the European Union gave Ukrainians unheard-of rights and liberties.

The law grants those who qualify access to education, the job market, and a residence permit.

According to the EU, this also applies to citizens of third countries who "are unable to return to their country in safe and durable conditions.".

According to the report, TPD visas have been granted to four million war refugees, 200,000 of whom are non-Ukrainian nationals.

However, a lot of nonprofits and neighborhood associations claim that the reality is quite different.

"People who have lived in Ukraine for 10 years have been turned away. Some people are unable to go back to their home countries and are homeless. During the war, they abandoned their papers, Ms. Yamamoto said.

"The students have gotten lost in the TPD's cracks; many of them are unable to go back home and just need a safe place to finish school. ".

Ghanaian medical student Andrew Awuah, who is in his final year, has been studying nonstop to complete his degree in Europe.

He said, "I take my classes online, complete clinical rotations on my days off, and attend evening German language classes.

The top-ranked, straight-A student even wrote a research paper on the effects of the war on the health of international students that was published.

When asked about going back to Ghana, he replied, "I only have five months left to go and I just don't want my degree to go to waste.".

Andrew lost out on a six-week scholarship program to Harvard because he is not covered by the TPD and may be allowed to return to Ghana, according to the authorities. As a condition of his temporary visa, he must remain in Germany.

Because he was able to secure a clinical rotation at a German university, he said, "I consider myself lucky.".

Victoria Osseme
Victoria Osseme settled down and established a life in Ukraine.

While some students, like Victoria Osseme, never left, others are thinking about going back to Ukraine.

The woman from Nigeria identifies as "the only black female in Kharkiv, Ukraine.".

She claimed that she "became Ukrainian" after pursuing two degrees and nine years in the nation. " .

She continued, "I could not leave them in such a difficult time.".

"I needed to help them, and the best way to do that was to stay and experience their suffering with them. ".

Since April 2022, she has been sharing her story on social media, and she claims that Ukrainians have responded favorably to her show of solidarity.

"My friends and family are happy that I stayed behind to represent Nigeria. ".

She has persevered despite the cold, bomb threats, and injuries from broken windows.

While many students might not be as committed to Ukraine, some who have been unable to obtain visas to travel elsewhere are beginning to realize that returning is their only remaining option, despite the conflict.

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