BULAWAYO – At least 200 Zimbabwean students are stranded in Ukraine after flights were grounded as Russia began a military offensive this week.
The students have sent a plea to the Zimbabwe government to be evacuated.
The ministry of foreign affairs said its embassy in Germany was coordinating with Zimbabwean citizens inside Ukraine.
Faith Vundla, a third-year medical student in Odessa, a port city on the Black Sea in southern Ukraine, said Russian bombs started falling on the city at around 4AM on Thursday.
“We didn’t sleep,” Vundla told ZimLive by phone.
She had booked a flight to Zimbabwe for Friday, but that can no longer happen after the airspace over Ukraine were closed to civilian aircraft.
Vundla estimates that 30 Zimbabwean students are in Odessa, with dozens more at universities around Ukraine including the capital, Kyiv, which has also come under bombardment.
Zimbabwe’s foreign affairs ministry, in a statement, said it “wishes to assure its citizens that it is seized with the developments in Ukraine.”
“Our embassy in Germany is already in touch with most of our students in Ukraine and is currently working towards assisting its nationals based in that country. Those who haven’t contacted the embassy are urged to do so on the number: +4903023255676 or on email: [email protected],” the ministry said.
Vundla said she was among the students that had joined a WhatsApp group created by the embassy. The students also have a separate WhatsApp group, she said, which has close to 200 people.
“The embassy has advised us to get to Poland from where we can be evacuated. The trouble is that to get into Poland you need a Schengen visa which most of us don’t have,” said Vundla.
“The other issue is that travel inside Ukraine itself has become very difficult, it’s more practical to go to a country closest to you and for us here in Odessa, that country is Moldova. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution around it I’m afraid and we desperately need our government to help us.”
Vundla said she and her friends planned to gather in one place as they await directions from the Zimbabwe government.
Russian forces invaded Ukraine by land, air and sea on Thursday. Missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities.
Ukraine reported columns of troops pouring across its borders into the eastern Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Luhansk regions, and landing by sea at the port cities of Odessa and Mariupol in the south.
Explosions could be heard before dawn in the capital Kyiv. Gunfire rattled, sirens blared across the city and the highway out became choked with traffic as residents tried to flee.
Initial reports of casualties were sporadic and unconfirmed. Ukraine reported at least eight people killed by Russian shelling and three border guards killed in the southern Kherson region.
Ukraine’s military said it had destroyed four Russian tanks on a road near Kharkiv, killed 50 troops near a town in Luhansk region and downed six Russian warplanes in the east.
Russia denied reports that its aircraft or armoured vehicles had been destroyed. Russian-backed separatists claimed to have downed two Ukrainian planes, meanwhile.
In a televised declaration of war in the early hours, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he had ordered “a special military operation” to protect people, including Russian citizens, subjected to “genocide” in Ukraine, an accusation western countries called absurd propaganda.
“And for this we will strive for the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine,” Putin said. “Russia cannot feel safe, develop, and exist with a constant threat emanating from the territory of modern Ukraine… All responsibility for bloodshed will be on the conscience of the ruling regime in Ukraine.”