‘Problem after problem’

“Problem after problem,” a distressed parent lamented to the Jamaica Observer on Sunday following an update from her son in Ukraine that he, along with 23 other Jamaican students, had been forced to embark on a nine-hour walk to the Polish border from the city of Lviv after initial plans to travel by bus were disrupted.

“I just want this whole thing to be over now. I am stressed out… It is not like your child is in Jamaica and you just don’t know if she is OK. It is a whole other country, and every time you look on social media you see a next news that makes you worry 1,000 times more. I wouldn’t wish this feeling pon mi worst enemy,” said the worried mother whose name is being withheld.

The mother’s lament came before Minister of Foreign Affairs Senator Kamina Johnson Smith confirmed that the 24 Jamaican students had travelled by foot after bus plans were disrupted.

“My best information is that apparently citizens were angered by the bus overtaking traffic. It is not clear to me whether this is vehicular traffic or foot traffic, as we have all been seeing images of long lines of people proceeding both on foot and by vehicle towards various border points in order to leave Ukraine,” Johnson Smith said in an early release.

But by mid-afternoon there was better news from Johnson Smith, as she disclosed that the students had reached an agreed point at the border between Ukraine and Poland.

“Of course these areas are extremely crowded, so it will take time for them to go through,” said Johnson Smith.

“Regrettably, we understand that two of the students are not feeling well. One in particular because of the cold. She is currently getting care in an ambulance now at that border crossing point,” added Johnson Smith.

She noted that the chargé d’affaires at the Jamaican Embassy in Berlin, Germany, Denise Sealy, is in Poland working with a Polish contact and heading to meet the students.

“The do have a heated bus that is ready to accommodate the 24 students when they would have crossed through and, as I have indicated before, we have made arrangements for accommodations, food on that side, and, of course, we know that arrangements are being made for flights back home as soon as they are available,” added Johnson Smith as she urged the nation to keep the students in their prayers.

That prayer was shared by one parent who told the Observer, “God is at the centre. They must pull through. We are a praying people,” the parent continued.

At 7:52 pm Ukraine time (12:52 pm Jamaica time), one of the students, Kavaun Chambers, told the Observer: “We are good,” via WhatsApp.

The Observer understands that while walking, the students experienced winter-like conditions, with temperatures as low as 3°C.

Nicole Senior’s niece attends Kharviv International Medical University. Senior told the Observer that her niece had informed her about the bus dilemma. Up to 3:00 pm she said there was really no update from the 21-year-old.

“Nothing new,” she said, adding that when she first heard, she felt, “just absolute terror and helplessness”.

Last Friday, Senior had told our newsroom that, “I wanted to sleep and couldn’t. I felt so guilty that I am safe and they weren’t,” and expressed that she was relieved after the students finally got on a train.

The relatives here in Jamaica were anticipating the students’ arrival to the Poland border, though they suspect it will be another hassle to cross over.

International media reports have underscored that lines at the border points stretch for miles, with many people who are eager to escape Ukraine pushing and fighting for a spot as close as possible to the front.

The United Nations (UN) said more than 160,000 people have been internally displaced, and more than 116,000 forced to flee into neighbouring countries.

In the meantime, another parent whose 20-year-old daughter is a student at Kiev Medical University said things remain unfavourable.

“Nothing will be well until the kids are home,” she told the Observer over Facebook Messenger.

The woman remains angered by comments on social media towards the students. She described the comments as “distasteful”, and requested that her and her daughter’s name be omitted from this story.

“You have people saying stuff like ‘who send dem there?’ Yes, we know that you guys did not send our kids there. We made the decision to send our kids there because when we apply to The UWI [University of the West Indies], The UWI basically told me and my child that I could not afford it to send her there. So, we have to send our kids somewhere else. Our kids want to make something of their lives. They want to be something. They want to contribute to society,” she lamented.

“Everything in life is a risk and a gamble, and they do it on their own. So, we are not playing the blame game on anybody. So, do not stay behind your screens and try to belittle these kids or belittle their parents,” she went on.

Meanwhile, Johnson Smith is urging Jamaican in Russia to take precautionary measures for their safety and leave where necessary.

She said there is indication that Jamaicans in Russia and surrounding Eastern European countries could be impacted by the crisis occurring in Ukraine.

“We are aware of eight Jamaican students, but our team has been receiving anecdotal reports of a higher number who are in Russia. Although we understand all of them are well and not experiencing disruptions, we take this opportunity to strongly urge Jamaicans in Russia, or persons who are aware of Jamaicans living in Russia, to provide the relevant contact information and location to the Consular Affairs Department here in Jamaica, and leave where possible before tension rises in that country,” said Johnson Smith.

“We take this opportunity to strongly urge nationals in these and surrounding countries in Eastern Europe to exercise prudence in their activities and to take precautionary measures for their safety. These include, and are not limited to, securing safe passage to alternative locations, securing the necessary resources to do so, and establishing relationships with family or friends [who] may be of assistance, as necessary, in ensuring their security.”