Some 2,000 Nigerians who fled Ukraine after the Russian invasion last week are on their way back to Nigeria. Nigerian authorities say 8,000 Nigerians were in Ukraine when Russia attacked, most of them students.
A flight from Romania carrying the first batch of 415 evacuees arrived at the private wing of the Abuja International Airport around 7 am Friday.
The evacuees filed out of the aircraft into a waiting room, where they met with officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), foreign affairs ministry and the health ministry.
Orunor Otobrise, a final-year student of medicine who was studying in Ukraine, was just three months short of graduation.
"We didn't expect the situation to escalate, it was a surprise, we went to sleep and we woke up with the sound of bombs and realized that certain cities had been missiled (hit with missiles)," Otobrise said.
At the airport, the evacuees were tested for COVID-19 and given $100 cash to pay for transportation to their homes.
Nigerian authorities say hundreds more were expected to arrive later in the day.
They say they are looking to evacuate around 8,000 Nigerians many of whom fled Ukraine for Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. The majority are young people who were studying at Ukrainian universities.
Gabriel Tanimu Aduda, a permanent secretary at the ministry of foreign affairs, is optimistic about bringing them home.
"Everything is in place and we're trusting God that this evacuation will continue safely. So we're expecting that at the end of today, we'll have brought in close to a thousand again," Aduda said.
Olu Dominic, also a final year student who was in the group that arrived Friday morning, says he hopes to be able to continue his education.
"We're hoping that things are a little bit settled in Ukraine so we can maybe complete our studies online."
Aduda said he was worried about some 300 students trapped in Sumy, a city in northeastern Ukraine that was hit by severe Russian bombing.
"So many [foreign] nationals are help up in Sumy. Nigeria alone, we have 366 students in Sumy so the moment that [a] safe corridor is created, our mission… will be to receive them and being them back home," Aduda said.
The United Nations says more than a million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began.
For now, many of the evacuees are happy to be back home but worry about the friends and lives they left behind.