Minister of Foreign Affairs, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, last Tuesday confirmed the safety of Namibian students in Ukraine and their uninterrupted classes but on Thursday, the Crimea State Medical University in Simferopol shut down but banned students from leaving campus.
This, as demonstrations in the southern city of Ukraine increased near the school. Yesterday morning (Sunday), the Crimea State Medical University management met with Namibian and other international students to update them on the severity of the situation. The university declared the school indefinitely closed until the political turmoil is brought to order.
Namibian, amongst other international students in that country, were yesterday given the option to remain in Simferopol and assess the situation till it cools down and resume classes or return to their home countries. However, they would have to return to Ukraine to resume their studies after the turmoil if they chose to return home.
“Some of the students with return tickets will be leaving tonight. Those of us who will stay have decided stay put and minimise our movements till the situation calms down. None of us wants to return home, though,” a Namibian student at Crimea State Medical University said under anonymity.
By Friday, students would spot troops patrolling around the school. The Simferopol International Airport, is currently closed. Students would have to search for a route, which does not go through Russia, to return home.
Three weeks ago when the demonstrations resumed, the shops and banks near the university in Simferopol were closed and students were thus unable to access their bank accounts to buy basic needs. That situation only changed when one bank finally opened its doors on 24th February after which more followed suit.
When Nandi-Ndaitwah addressed the situation last week, she said “the situation in Ukraine has reached a level of uncertainty”. A statement following that assured the public all 67 Namibian students studying in Ukraine and registered with the foreign mission, which is only in Russia, are safe and attending classes.
That figure (67) does not represent all the students in Ukraine except for those who have been registered with the embassy in Moscow, Russia. Most students in Ukraine do not understand the procedure followed to be registered with the Namibian embassy in Moscow. Therefore, they do not travel to Russia to be registered. The students would also have to foot their travelling expenses across the border to Russia where the only Namibia representation is.
However, if students are not recorded by the embassy in Russia, then the Namibian embassy is unable to keep tabs on who is safe and who isn’t.
The students in Ukraine do not have a direct representative from the Namibian embassy to consult, especially during a time like this where the endless riots have now spread from the capital, Kiev, to the South in Simferopol.
On the evening of 27th February, students grew weary when Ukrainian media reports stated Russia had sent 1152 troops into Simferopol to ‘monitor the demonstrations in the town’.
As it is, the closest Ukrainian embassy to Namibia is in South Africa, as correspondence is done through the Russian embassy by those wishing to go to Ukraine.
Namibia has students in Kiev, Simferopol [which is 812km from the capital] and Donetsk, which is 708km from the capital.
On Friday, Reuters reported: “The international airport in Simferopol, the main city in Ukraine’s Crimea region, is not allowing flights from the national capital, Kiev, following the airport’s takeover by armed men.”
The students in Ukraine are treated on the basis of nationalism, which means the Ministry of Education does not have responsibility whatsoever in attending to their concerns regarding their studies in Ukraine. Namibia Student Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) head of communication, Percy Tjahere, told The Villager this week, “Namibia has an embassy addressing this issue. The Fund does not send students to these countries, they choose to go to those countries on their own accord, because everybody is allowed to study wherever they want.”
The Fund said it is therefore not responsible for students abroad, as its obligations only go as far as funding them is concerned but not securing their safety in foreign countries.
“The Minister of Foreign Affairs made it very clear in her statement regarding this issue. The Ministry of Education will not even have a comment on this, because these students are Namibian citizens addressed by foreign affairs’ structures,” Tjahere added when The Villager inquired about students who left the current on its account.
Last year, the NSFAF funded 1300 international students including those who had gone to the former soviet socialist countries. It can, however, not account for the number of students who went to Ukraine.
Last month, the Fund also announced it would no longer fund students who wish to study abroad, unless they have obtained a minimum of 35 points and above in their Grade 12 NSSC examinations.
So far, Government’s last update regarding Namibian students’ safety in troubled Ukraine was last Tuesday.
The official number of students (67) recorded by the Namibian embassy in Russia does not tally with the number of Namibian students in Ukraine but those registered with the mission.
Those who spoke to The Villager from Ukraine under anonymity said they do not have directive to register with the mission in Moscow, because they are treated as nationals who are supposed to possess information regarding registering oneself outside the Namibian borders for purposes of safety and record-keeping.
Crimea, a rugged strategic peninsula jutting into the Black Sea that was gifted to Ukraine by a Soviet leader 60 years ago is now the epicentre of a dangerous crisis pitting Russia against the West.
The popular vacation spot is home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet and is mostly populated by ethnic Russians extremely wary of the new pro-Western leaders in the country’s capital Kiev some 400 miles (650 kilometres) to the north.
Tensions have simmered in Crimea since Ukraine’s Russian-leaning president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted a week ago, with calls for the autonomous republic to secede from the rest of the country.
The territory, about the size of Belgium, is an important agricultural and wine-producing region with rich tobacco plantations. Crimea has also become a popular tourist region because of its subtropical climate and numerous seaside resorts.
But its history is chequered by invasion and occupation, with everyone from the Huns to Venetians, Byzantine Greeks and Ottoman Turks lording over its seaside cliffs and rich agricultural land over the centuries.
Moscow began its reign in the 18th century, establishing its Black Sea Fleet in 1783 on the southern tip of the peninsula in what is today the city of Sevastopol, and continued its rule into the Soviet era uninterrupted except for the German occupation during World War II.
Toward the end of the war, in May 1944, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin deported the entire Muslim Tatar population of Crimea, where they had lived for centuries, to Central Asia on charges of having collaborated with the Nazis. Nearly half died of disease on the journey.
It was in Crimea that leaders of the winning sides of the war, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Josef Stalin, huddled in the Livadia palace in the seaside resort of Yalta in February 1945 to decide what Europe would look like after the war.
The Soviet leader who took over from Stalin after his death, Nikita Khrushchev, transferred Crimea as a “gift” to Ukraine in a surprise move in 1954.
The move was largely meaningless during Soviet times, as both Ukraine and Russia were republics in the Soviet Union.
But it took on major significance when the USSR imploded in 1991 and Moscow found itself with one of its major fleets in a newly independent country.
That year, the exiled Tatars began trickling back and today make up just over 12 percent of the population. Wary of Moscow influence, they had tended to back the anti-Yanukovych demonstrations which erupted in Kiev after the former president abandoned an EU integration pact in favour of closer relations with the Kremlin.
Ethnic Russians today account for 59 percent of Crimea’s population, with ethnic Ukrainians 24 percent.
The issue of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol has been a thorn in the side of relations between Ukraine and Russia ever since the Soviet Union collapsed.
The port has been crucial for Russia’s navy over the years - providing quick access to the eastern Mediterranean, Balkans and Middle East.
In 2010, after years of tortuous negotiations, Ukraine agreed to extend Moscow’s lease on Sevastopol port until 2042 in exchange for a 30-percent reduction in the price of Russian gas on which Ukraine depends for much of its energy needs.
But Russia remained wary about its reliance on Ukraine, and disliked some of the conditions imposed by the deal - including the need for Ukrainian consent every time it wanted to upgrade or replace ships at Sevastopol.
As a result, since 2008 Russia has been pumping money into building a new base further along the Crimean coast on its own territory at Novorossiysk, with plans to move the region’s new and flagship vessels there.
“There are certainly political and ethno-cultural reasons for Moscow to desire continued influence in the Crimea, but the purely military-strategic importance of Sevastopol... has in fact weakened in recent years,” Christian Le Miere of London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies wrote this week. - AFP