Most Sri Lankans opt to stay back | Sunday Observer
War in Ukraine

Most Sri Lankans opt to stay back

27 February, 2022
People take shelter in a subway station in Kyiv
People take shelter in a subway station in Kyiv

As explosions rocked Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and several other towns and cities, six students and nearly 50 other Sri Lankans still remain in that country, Sri Lanka’s Mission in Turkey concurrently accredited to Ukraine said, adding that most of them have opted to stay behind despite the escalating violence.  

Of the group, two male students are awaiting repatriation and three Sri Lankans are in the Eastern city of Kharkiv, one of the first cities targeted in the Russian operation. On Thursday, the Lankans in Kharkiv told the embassy that they would leave their homes if the situation worsens. 

Ambassador Mohamed Rizvi Hassen

Ambassador Janitha A. Liyanage

“We have filled our fuel tanks and the vehicles are ready to move us to safety,” they said. Since the fighting intensified on Friday, it was not immediately known if the three Sri Lankans with their families had left for safer places. A curfew has been imposed in Kharkiv as of Friday.

“They had come to Ukraine as students, married Ukrainian girls and settled in Kharkiv. They will move out of Kharkiv, where they had been living for 30 years but do not plan to return to Sri Lanka,” diplomatic sources who are in contact with them told the Sunday Observer.  

The Sri Lankan mission in Ankara has been maintaining contacts with the students in Ukraine for the past several weeks and had tried to convince them to leave the country before the situation worsened. Of the six students remaining in Ukraine, two have sought to return home while the others had not made contacts with the mission. 

“We are currently planning to expatriate the two students. The plan is to evacuate them to Poland and then to Colombo,” Sri Lanka’s Ambassador Mohamed Rizvi Hassen said.

A student identifying himself as Dakshith Wijesekera shared a video of himself pleading for assistance to go to the city of Lviv in West Ukraine and cross the border to Poland.

He said no public transport was working in the country and he was stranded, waiting assistance from the embassy in Ankara to escape the war torn Ukraine.

He is currently located 300 kilometres off the Ukranian Capital. According to his video another Sri Lankan student, waiting to return home, has moved into a metro station in Kyiv to escape shelling.

“Trains are not working since people had occupied underground stations to protect themselves, while others are leaving the cities. I’m thankful to the staff and the Ambassador at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Turkey for making preparations to repatriate us,” he said in the video.

According to official data 14 students were in Ukraine before the violence erupted, of them eight had left for Sri Lanka by last Monday. A female student was the last to leave Ukraine before the violence started.

Ukraine, and also a few other East European countries serve as transit points for Asians including Sri Lankans seeking to cross over to Europe illegally. They travel to these destinations on student visas and make a move when the opportunity strikes. 

“We are ready to help Sri Lankans, to be repatriated but those who don’t make contact with us even after our repeated requests, then there is no way to reach out to them,”  an official at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Ankara, said when asked about the four students who are missing.

The Foreign Ministry on Thursday launched a 24x7 hotline at the Sri Lanka Embassy in Ankara - mobile: +90 534 456 94 98 and land line: +90 312 427 10 32 or email: [email protected] for distressed Lankans in Ukraine to get in touch with the Embassy.

“In view of the escalation of fighting in Ukraine, the Foreign Ministry has instructed the Sri Lanka Embassy in Ankara, to coordinate the safe passage of the remaining Sri Lankans in Ukraine,” a release from the Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

Sri Lankans constitute a negligible figure among thousands of international students who study at 240 universities in Ukraine. India has well over 15,000 students followed by Pakistan and the Philippines. Most of the international students including Indians were staying on as of Friday despite heavy fighting in some cities.

In Belarus, the neighbouring state north of Ukraine, there are more Sri Lankan students - most of them pursuing medical degrees. The Belarusian medical degree is one of the few foreign degrees recognised by the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC).

Ukranian troops on armoured vehicles

The Foreign Ministry confirmed that by December 2021, there were over 1,460 Sri Lankan students in Belarus and over 20 others holding work permits and permanent residence status.

This figure is expected to be higher now with the students who had enrolled for study courses this year. Foreign Ministry sources said none of the students in Belarus have expressed intent to come back due to the evolving situation in Ukraine by last Friday.  There is no evacuation notice for students in Belarus up to now.

The Ambassador in Moscow Janitha. A. Liynage who is accredited to Kyiv has conveyed to the Foreign Ministry that there is no immediate threat to the Sri Lankans in Belarus due to the Russian military operations and retaliatory attacks by Ukrainian forces but she has said the situation could change quickly. The embassy is closely monitoring the developments.

It is suspected that if fighting escalates with the NATO forces joining to support Ukraine Belarus which is a Russian ally will be unsafe since hostilities could spill over. The international media reported footage of Russian troops entering Ukraine, via Belarus and Crimea, a sign that the two states could also be dragged in.  

Several Sri Lankan medical students at the Vitebsk Medical University in Belarus told the Sunday Observer that the tensions in Ukraine have not been felt or made any effect in the place they currently stay. “The news of the Russian operations is confined to foreign news, it is not part of the main news yet”, they said on Friday.

The embassy in Moscow has set up a Whatsapp group for students in Belarus, to keep them in the loop as to the embassy notices. Nearly ,1200 students are part of this group. Sources from the Foreign Ministry said a significant number of Sri Lankan medical students are at the Gomel State Medical University which is a concern due to its proximity to the Ukrainian border.

The mission has joined the university’s emergency plan for international students to assist them with repatriating the Sri Lankans. There are over 116 students at the Gomel University.

“If the situation escalates and if there is a need to bring the students out of Belarus, the embassy is ready with a contingency plan to facilitate it via Moscow,” the Foreign Ministry official added.


Ukraine-Russia conflict timeline

February 2014 — Protesters in Ukraine overthrow Pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. During the revolution, more than 100 people were killed in protests.

The interim Government signs a trade agreement with the European Union.

April 2014 — Russia annexes the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. Two secessionist regions, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the neighboring Luhansk People’s Republic, break off from Ukraine.

The war continues in the eastern Ukrainian region known as Donbas and spreads west. About 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians eventually die in the conflict.

2014 and 2015 — Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France sign a series of ceasefire agreements known as the Minsk Accords.

April 2019 — A former comedian, Volodymyr Zelensky, is elected by a large majority as president of Ukraine on a promise to restore Donbas to the country.

2021-2022 —Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks to prevent Ukraine’s drift toward the United States and its allies.

November 10, 2021 US reports usual troop movement near Ukrainian border

December 7, 2021 US threatens Russia with sanctions if it invades Ukraine

January 17, 2022 Russian Troops carryout military drills in Belarus

January 19 - US announces security aid to Ukraine

January 24 - NATO puts soldiers on standby, ends ships and fighter jets to Eastern Europe

January 25 - Russia begin military exercises near Ukraine border and in Crimea

January 26 - US refuses to block NATO seat to Ukraine

February 2 - US send 3000 soldiers to Eastern Europe to assist NATO forces

February 17 - Shell fire escalates along Russia-Ukraine frontline

February 22 - Russia recognises independence of two secessionist regions in Eastern Ukraine

February 24 - Russian troops enter Ukraine. Ukraine vows to fight back. Over 100 casualties on both sides. Second emergency UN Security Council meeting to call for restraint gets interrupted as the news of troops advancement was announced

February 25 - Russian troops close in on the Ukranian Capital Kyiv. Tens of thousand flee homes.

February 26 - Fighting begins on the streets of Kyiv

Source - Foreign Media