Stranded East African nationals in Ukraine could force unplanned evacuation bills on their governments as invasion of the Eastern European country by Russia impact cost of fuel.
On Friday, governments in the region were assuring their citizens of the safety of their kin in Ukraine, even as some reached out for help from the embassies.
Karanja Mwaura, a Kenyan in Ukraine told The EastAfrican that supermarket shelves were quickly running out of stocks as residents scrambled to stock food for of unknown. His town, Zaporizhia in southeastern Ukraine, where he lives with his family, was still relatively safe, but he said he could hear explosions and that people were trying to flee.
“Things are tensed here. People are panic-buying but ATMs are also not dispensing cash. Some are retaining cards,” he said on phone.
“We need cash to pay for the taxis to the border. I don’t know how we will do it now,” he said.
The nearest border crossing is 14 hours away by road to Poland. Mr Mwaura and other Kenyans had by Friday formed social media groups calling on the government in Nairobi to help them move to safe grounds. The group complained that they could not get into Poland because there had been no arrangements yet to let them in.
Macharia Kamau, Principal Secretary in the Foreign Ministry in Nairobi, said the government had issued a cautionary note to Kenyans to leave “as they deem fit.”
“So far, all the Kenyans in Ukraine are reported to be safe. Some, however, have been stuck at border points, particularly near Poland because of visa restrictions,” he said in a statement.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in touch with all the neighbouring countries of the Ukraine within the EU to seek their accommodation and to allow Kenyans to transit through their countries should they wish to return home.”
Kenya said it had been assured by EU member states neighbouring Ukraine of providing necessary visas to its citizens who want to leave for their safety. It also suggested those who want to stay can relocate to safer regions of the country, especially western parts.
Uganda’s ambassador to Russia Johnson Agara Olwa advised Ugandans in Ukraine to provide information on their whereabouts to the Embassy via WhatsApp +79671181035 or telephone +74992302376. But the Ugandan diplomat said all nationals should follow directions from local authorities and monitor the situation on news channels. “It is our prayer that the situation will be short-lived,” he said in a public notice on Friday.
There are at least 200 Kenyans in Ukraine, most of whom are students. Kenya has in the past resisted pressure to evacuate stranded nationals abroad.
The last government-facilitated evacuation was in 2015 when the war erupted in Yemen. The Kenya Defence Forces was in 2013 deployed to airlift Kenyans from South Sudan when civil war broke out. Now, Nairobi insists that Kenyans take refuge in parts of Ukraine that have not been affected by war and any evacuation plan would have to be on the evacuees’ cost, as it happened during the Covid airlifts in the UK, India and China in 2020.
In Rwanda, officials said they were yet to determine the help required by nationals in Ukraine. Alain Mukurarinda, Deputy Government Spokesperson, said the government was aware of the situation. Later, Igor Cesar, Rwandan ambassador to Germany and accredited to Poland and Ukraine, told The EastAfrican there were plans to ensure their safety, adding that no one was in danger yet.
“We are working on securing our citizens in Ukraine. We have not had any security issues reported by any Rwandan. We will communicate further details later,” he said.
While the attention focused on Ukraine, even those in Russia, the invader, are complaining of restrictions.
“There are some sanctions being imposed,” a Rwandan student in Russia said, “like money from outside can’t enter the country. That could affect us if our school allowances from Rwanda is blocked. We are safe, for now, no sign of war here. We can easily get in touch with officials at the embassy in case of any issue, but we have not received any communication from them about the situation yet.”
Tanzania’s Foreign ministry on Friday asked Tanzanians in Ukraine to stay put and follow instructions from the Ukrainian government for the time being. Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Buhohela said in a statement that so far there had been no reports of any Tanzanians being harmed.
“Tanzanian students in Ukrainian colleges are advised to follow any instructions given by their college administrations and contact their parents to start making arrangements for quick evacuation should the situation continue escalating,” Mr Buhohela said.
The situation in Ukraine became dire on Thursday after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his ground forces to enter the country, as he raided crucial sites such as the Chernobyl nuclear plant north of Ukraine.
Putin said in a televised speech that the West had violated Russia’s “principles of equal and indivisible security in Europe” by courting Ukraine, which he called “our historical lands” to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). “In response to our proposals, we invariably faced either cynical deception and lies or attempts at pressure and blackmail, while the North Atlantic alliance continued to expand despite our protests and concerns. Its military machine is moving and, as I said, is approaching our very border,” he said. “Any further expansion of the North Atlantic alliance’s infrastructure or the ongoing efforts to gain a military foothold of the Ukrainian territory are unacceptable for us.”
And the African Union joined the fray on Thursday, saying the attack was a “dangerous” move that could escalate.
Senegalese President Macky Sall, Chairman of the African Union, and AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat said in a joint statement that Russia should leave Ukraine. They said both sides should “establish an immediate ceasefire and to open political negotiations without delay.”
But the AU spoke as Sudan’s military junta sent a delegation to Moscow for talks on cooperation, showing a divided position within AU members. Russians have had closer security ties with Sudan, Central Africa Republic and Mali.
Kenya, a member of the UN Security Council, accused Russia of seeking a dangerous expansionist move that could awaken “dead empires.” Nairobi said it rejects “irredentism and expansionism on any basis.”
On Thursday, Dr Martin Kimani, the Permanent Representative to the UN, said both sides have a chance to negotiate.
“Kenya believes that diplomacy can still deliver de-escalation as a start to a broader negotiation of a renewed European security architecture. The world needs visionary leadership that reinforces the UN Charter.”
The region’s actual budgets for evacuation, should the war continue, may yet to be determined. But each country will likely be forced to address the safety concerns