Nigerians Trapped in Ukraine’s Kherson Take Huge Risks in Bid to Leave

Lizzy Ogaji browses through her phone for an update on the war in Ukraine, hoping for positive news, but finding little to lift her hopes.

She said her brother’s one of many Nigerian students trapped in Kherson, a Ukrainian city on the Black Sea occupied by invading Russian forces. She said he tried to escape the war-torn city this week but was turned around by the Russian military.

She’s scared for his safety.

“I am worried, like seriously worried, because each time I tune to the television, seeing the headlines and the news, in short my heart aches,” Ogaji said.

Kherson fell to Russian forces on March 3, days after the invasion started, trapping hundreds of international students like Ogaji’s brother in the city.

For three weeks now, they have been living in extremely cold bomb shelters with limited access to food, medicine and the internet.

Nigerian authorities have promised to evacuate the students but said that can only happen with a cease-fire in place.

Many students have been making individual escape attempts despite the high risks. Jerry Kenny, who mobilized a pack of foreign nationals trapped in Kherson, made it out days ago.

Kenny said they were living in very deplorable conditions.

“We ran out of food, water and I was out of cash,” Kenny said.

Some of the students escaping Kherson recently have been receiving aid and direction from nonprofit groups trying to evacuate foreign nationals from the city.

Danielle Onyekwere is a co-founder of the U.S.-based Diaspora Relief, a nonprofit organization started to help evacuate foreign nationals from Ukraine. She said without the cease-fire, evacuations in Kherson are risky and expensive.

“Right now, we’re not going off of any safe corridor, there’s no humanitarian corridor as of this time,” Onyekwere said. “What we’re going off with is just routes that we know locals have taken that they made it. So it’s still a risk on its own but it’s just like, why not try than still stay stranded there while we’re waiting on negotiations, especially if things are getting worse.”

But while Ogaji’s brother remains stuck in Ukraine, she communicates with him daily and said it gives her family hope.

“He never showed any negative feeling of the situation in Ukraine, he always encourages me, he’ll say, ‘Don’t worry sister I’ll be fine.’”

No one knows if a cease-fire will be agreed to anytime soon. For now, an escape attempt might be his only chance to leave Kherson.

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