‘Help us, we’re in a quandary’: International students say they’re trapped in northeast Ukraine

Vivian Udenze, 21, a Nigerian medical student at Sumy State University, told CNN: “This is the eighth day since the crisis began. Many places have been evacuated. There are more than 600 of us, foreigners and students.”

She said most of the group are medical students from Nigeria, Morocco, Tanzania, Congo, India and other countries.

Sumy is located in the northeast of Ukraine, only 30 miles from the border with Russia.

As heavy fighting rages across the country between Russian and Ukrainian forces, Udenze told CNN by phone that she woke up to two loud explosions around 8 a.m. Wednesday and heard gunshots on Thursday. “I’m so scared and time is running out.” We don’t want the Russians to enter the city and meet us here. We need a humanitarian corridor so that we can get out,” she said.

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As the second round of talks between the Russian and Ukrainian delegation to Belarus ended on Thursday, the head of the Russian delegation, Vladimir Medinsky, told Russian media that the parties had agreed on humanitarian corridors for civilians.
Udenze later told CNN that more explosions were heard Thursday night around 6:30 p.m. local time. According to her, after the explosion, the students no longer have electricity and water.

The students’ escape is complicated by the lack of public transport in Sumy, which has come under heavy shelling in recent days, destroying roads and bridges.

“No one talks about Sumy”

Fifth-year medical student and Indian citizen Shivangi Shibu shared a similar story on Thursday. “We just heard sirens. The situation here is going to get worse very soon. We don’t have any other options, so we just have to run to the bunkers,” she told CNN by phone.

“No one talks about Sumy. I hope that we will be evacuated soon, because we do not want to be victims of this war. We didn’t deserve this,” Shibu added.

“This is our second home, but we still need our family. We need to see them. We do not want to participate in this policy… [only] the solution is to… let us pass through the Russian border because we cannot travel to any other destination.”

Later Thursday evening, Shibu shared a video from her university dorm window of what she said was an airstrike on Sumy. It shows a flash of harsh light in the distance. “There is no electricity,” she wrote in the video caption.

Excel Ugochukwu is a first-year student in business management. A Nigerian student told CNN: “Planes flew overhead and there was a loud explosion. We just lost the electricity.”

He said the university has “asked everyone to stay put and in shelters” but described the constant threat of danger that makes everyday life stressful in the city.

“A curfew has been introduced [from] From 18:00 to 06:00. During the curfew, there is a complete power outage. Street lights and lights inside the house are off,” he told CNN.

“Periodically there are air strike warnings and everyone moves to a bomb shelter,” he added, before running to the nearest bomb shelter.
In a video sent to CNN, another Nigerian university student, Nnamdi Chukwuemeka, pleaded: “We are trying to draw the world’s attention to the plight of students here in Sumy.

“Sumy borders on Russia, and therefore we have no way to escape. We want the international community to help provide us with a safe corridor to leave Sumy. The situation is getting serious,” Chukwuemeka said.

Udenze said she was unable to contact any of the Nigerian embassy representatives.

She told CNN: “People have been trying to contact them… I personally sent a message to someone out there. [but] I have not received a reply”.

When CNN contacted Nigerian Foreign Minister Jeffrey Onyama, he said: “We know and we are taking action.”

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The Indian Embassy in Moscow said in a statement to CNN that it is “extremely concerned about the safety and security of Indian citizens stranded in (the) Kharkiv and Sumy regions” during the ongoing conflict.

“We have asked both sides to secure the civilian areas where our students are located,” the statement said. The embassy added that it was working closely with Russian authorities to see if these citizens could be returned to India via Russia, and sent teams to the Russian side of the border to prepare for their possible evacuation.