Like many young Nigerians exploring the world overseas, Goodness Kehinde Ifabumuyi left her home in Ondo state, southwest Nigeria for Ukraine to pursue her education in medicine at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv.
Armed with beautiful ideas, towering dreams and lofty ambitions, on February 24, 2022, what appears to be a smooth ride close to her dreamland was hit by sudden adversity: the Russian military invaded Ukraine in one of the most brutal attacks in modern history. This put a stop to a stream of plans.
The attack has since led to a score of casualties, with families displaced as green grasses tragically turned to grey.
From the serene street of Kyiv to the splendorous atmosphere of Kharkiv, there were cries of young and innocent kids as residents continued to scamper for safety upon hearing the sound of missiles.
“I was in Kyiv, the capital of the country, and I sensed it was getting more dangerous. I could hear the bombs and saw fire. So I immediately packed my bags and headed to the train station,” Goodness recounted to Legit.ng how the war started.
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Beginning of war that shatters dreams
Although there had been threats from Russia, nobody believed that anyone could dare to invade a sovereign state in 21st century until it did in what the government of Moscow covered with propaganda as a “special military operation.”
On the day of the invasion, Goodness said she observed from the apartment she was staying with three other African girls that the “streets were empty, there were no buses”, and she hardly saw people. She was left wondering if it was the same Kyiv she had been staying at.
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Goodness said that on February 24, she was sleeping at 5am when a big blast occurred and “shook the bed.” When the first strike of the bomb occurred, it became a run for safety, signposting a long walk to survival.
She had to “trek to a bigger bus stop” after waiting for hours without hope at a closer one— and from there, she joined a teeming legion of people fleeing the horrible scene of war.
The assistance from Poland
Leaving war-infested Ukraine was not an easy peregrination. Goodness said she had to stay a night in Lviv (Western Ukraine near the Polish border) after leaving Kyiv—there, she finally got help to Poland, thanks to “foreigners” and some Ukrainian families she met on the way.
Poland, due to its closeness to the Ukrainian border, has positioned itself as a quick destination for refugees running from the ongoing war in Ukraine.
As of June 16, more than 5.1 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded across Europe. More than 3.4 million have applied for temporary residence since Russia’s invasion, with the UN refugee agency still scaling up its operations to provide aid to old and new arrivals.
Goodness and others were welcomed upon arriving in Poland and she is temporarily residing in the country as uncertainties continue to surround when the war will end.
On her general feeling on the war, Goodness said the invasion was “unnecessary and it is against human rights.”
She further described Russia’s invasion as “an act of injustice” which has brought major change to her life and others.
“It shouldn’t be happening, it should stop and everything should come back to normal, the way it was and peace should reign,” she said.
Staying strong amidst adversities
Now in Poland, Goodness said the war, though it affected many things, did not put her education on hold. She and other students are learning remotely as the authorities in Ukraine try to lessen the impact of the war.
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“Classes have been holding online, no stop and break. I just finished a semester, I have three exams left. We had a break for one month then we resumed back…Now we are done with our works, just exams,” she said.
“The feeling (of learning online) is actually not the same for practicals. But our Ukrainian lecturers are doing their best to make sure that we experience something similar to a classroom. We have different apps, and educational websites that they teach us from.”
Adapting to new culture and similarities between Nigeria and Ukraine
As part of her education demand, Goodness said she is learning the Ukrainian language and adapting to the country’s beautiful culture. The young Nigerian medical student described Ukrainians as friendly people who form a platonic relationship with those they love.
“I now have Ukranian friends, I work with Ukranians. In my schools, the administration, my landlord they are all Ukrainians and they help my stay in the country, Ukraine.
“My Ukranians friends love to have a taste of my African food but they find it too spicy. They are eager to dance, learn music. They are open to learn,” she said.
On similarities between Ukraine and Nigeria, Goodness stated that the idea of family in both countries is closely striking, and of a similar standard.
According to her, just like Nigerians, Ukrainians love their families, friends, food and delicacies, culture and attires.
“Ukranians that I’ve met, they dress elegantly to represent Ukraine. And that’s what we do back home in Nigeria. For their women, you see them in heels and blazer; they look nice,” she said.
In terms of festivals, Goodness likened the local Ukrainian festivals to Osun Osogbo in Osun state or Olojo in Ile-Ife, where there is always food and colourful local attires.
Africa’s presence in Ukraine
In Ukraine’s major cities like Kyiv, Ternopil, and Kharkiv there are African markets where Blacks can access African foods and clothes. Goodness said these African goods are not expensive. So there is always a door to two options: one can decide to buy African rice or Ukraine one.
“Nigerian foods are available at the African markets,” Goodness said, adding that there are people who make African braids for “reasonable prices.”
On end of war and what the future holds
With international communities offering support to Ukraine and speaking against the war, Goodness expressed optimism that by early next year–2023, the war in Ukraine would have stopped, and everything would return to normal.
Although there are streams of uncertainties, the young Nigerian stated that she believed there would be a day the “airports will open” and there would be smiles on everyone’s cheeks.
“To the people of Ukraine, foreigners, this time shall pass, and everything is going to come back to normal when we can all go back to our schools, visit our motor parks, celebrate our national day. At some point, everything will come back to normal,” she assured with a beaming smile.