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International students scramble to find safety in Ukraine as invasion begins

International students across Ukraine are on high alert as Russia began a “full-scale” invasion on the country this morning, with shells hitting as far west as the capital, Kyiv.

Russian forces began launching bombs at military targets early on Thursday morning. Photo: Pexels.

Students from across the globe who are currently stranded in the country are looking for information

President of Russia Vladimir Putin made a statement just before daybreak, insisting the Ukrainian military “lay down their arms”, but said he did not plan to occupy he country – despite multiple military targets now having been hit by Russian forces.

Meanwhile, students from across the globe who are currently stranded in the country are looking for information and ways to either shelter in place or get as close to a border as possible.

The Ukrainian Center for International Education’s website has also been down as of this morning.


The Ukrainian Center for International Education’s website is currently not functioning.


“Up until Monday, the school did not tell anyone to go home on the basis of potential unrest,” Anjolaoluwa Ero-Phillips, a Nigerian medical student currently studying in Lviv, told The PIE News.

“Only on Tuesday did they say people could go home, and I don’t think that was even on the basis of the tension. It was due to the pandemic situation in the city not dying down – school was due to be online until the end of the semester,” he continued.

His sister told the PIE that students in Nigeria were told the same thing every time by the Nigerian embassy in Ukraine: check the website. Nigerian students made up some 5.5% of the total 76,548 international students in Ukraine in 2020.

“Up until Monday, the school did not tell anyone to go home on the basis of potential unrest”

As February 24, the Nigerian embassy in Ukraine has not updated its website since January 26 – leaving many students frustrated, including Ero-Phillips.

“There are rumours that the embassy cannot evacuate anybody until they get approval from the federal government,” he said.

The Nigerian house of representatives’ leader, according to its Twitter account, is due to “jet out to Ukraine on Friday”, despite a commercial airspace shutdown.

A letter has been posted by the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, saying for those who still “consider it appropriate” to remain in the country, that the embassy will remain open for its “consular duties”.

However, it also states that any students seeking “temporary relocation” are “enjoined to seek proper clearance and guarantee from their respective institutions”.

According to 2020 statistics from the Ukrainian government, India takes up 24% international student body in the country, at the time reaching 18,095. There were 4,227 Nigerian students in Ukraine that same year.

In total, looking at these statistics, over 75,000 international students could currently be still in the country.

“We’re trying to ensure that students have somewhere specific where they can get all the things they need, and the Indian embassy in Ukraine is releasing updates about where they can find support,” Sanam Arora, founder and chairperson of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK, told the PIE.

Arora is part of Rescuing Every Distressed Indian Overseas, a platform lobbying for the safe return of those in distressed or stranded to India – it is currently working with the Indian government to figure out the next steps.

“We’re looking at how we may be able to get people out via land to neighbouring countries because the airspace is obviously shut at the moment – we are setting up WhatsApp groups, where people are being to put together on one platform so they can receive updates as they arise,” she explained.

The Ambassador of India to Ukraine released a statement urging people who are still stranded to stay where they are, or for those who are “in transit” to go back to “their familiar places of habitation”.

“Those who are stranded in Kyiv, please get in touch with your friends and colleagues in Kyiv, universities and other community members, so that you can temporarily lodge there – we have already reached out to the Indian Diaspora and have requested them to assist you to the best of their abilities,” said Partha Satpathy.

“I think the first bomb happened around four this morning, or thereabouts”

Leverage Edu‘s founder and CEO Akshay Chaturvedi told The PIE News that efforts are continuing to get students to safety: “Indian diplomacy towards the entire situation has been very balanced and independent so far. Our full focus is to get our students out. Three flights were scheduled from Kyiv to New Delhi, however the third flight had to return halfway after the Ukrainian airspace declared closure.

“The Indian government is now in dialogues with neighbouring ally Poland to get students moved out – flights are on standby,” he added.

On a Twitter space – “Nigerian students in Ukraine” – held this morning by @OluomoofDerby, who runs regular spaces for Nigerians, one participant who is an engineer in Ukraine described what was happening on the ground.

“I think the first bomb happened around four this morning, or thereabouts – it’s been crazy,” he said.

“If you also take into account the educational system, a lot of things were going on as normal; classes were still being held within some of the universities, so there was no direct communication from the Ministry of Education,” he explained.

Universities across Europe have taken to express their regret at what is happening in the country – the University of Westminster said today that they would like to “offer support” to all those affected by the events in Ukraine, including Westminster students, colleagues, alumni and their families.

The Goethe Institute in Germany also released a statement, stating its “shock at the current situation”.

“We are in constant contact with our Ukrainian colleagues – they receive intensive support from us, so they can take care of themselves and their families. The Goethe-Institut Kyiv continues to work online, as far as the security situation allows,” said its secretary general Johannes Ebert.

“While economic sanctions against Russia are now indispensable, we are convinced that civil exchange is more important than ever,” he insisted.

The British Council in Ukraine has said it has suspended all of its operations temporarily.

Most students are trying to look for a way out, but the main priority is to find shelter. While Kyiv has reportedly come under fire, Lviv, where Ero-Phillips is based, is still “relatively safe”.

“Everyone is in panic and disarray – it’s getting worse by the minute”

“It’s even worse for people in the East. I have a friend over there who now has no means to leave the city – there’s no train, no public transport – if you don’t have a car, you’re stuck,” he explained.

“But there are a lot of Nigerians in Ivano-Frankivsk, and there was a bombing at the airport there and Ivano is in the west.

“Everyone is in panic and disarray – it’s getting worse by the minute. I plan to get as much money as possible to get to the Polish border – I don’t know if my Nigerian passport will be enough since I don’t have a visa,” Ero-Phillips added.

“We would request and urge everyone to ensure that they find shelter nearby and get in touch with the local Indian community – it’s a very dynamic and evolving situation,” Arora said.

The Ukrainian Center for International Education could not be reached for comment.

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