By Kenneth Jukpor
Engr. Ronald Ajiboye is a former President of Nigerian Students in Ukraine. He is an Aerospace Engineer and the CEO/Founder of McRonald AutoDrone Centre Limited. In this exclusive interview with MMS Plus, he speaks on a wide range of issues concerning the Russia/ Ukraine war. Ajiboye shares experiences on the Russia/ Ukraine dogmas and conflicts, unreported factors leading to the war and challenges facing Nigerian students.
Can you share your views on the Russia/Ukraine war and your experiences as a student in Ukraine a few years ago?
The Ukrainian President is Jewish and Russians have always been people who don’t like invasion of their privacy. The President of Russia is also a Ukrainian because his father served in the Ukrainian army. Russia still wants to retain its identity as the Soviet Union and they also want this on behalf of Ukraine. There are so many underlying issues because although Ukraine is a sovereign state, it has always been a part of Russia because they are like Ondo State and Ekiti State. They speak the same language and have the same culture and traditions. They are only separated by geographical area. They are really interwoven and they probably never considered during the Soviet that things like this would come up. Under the Soviet Union, some warheads were buried in Ukraine and they remain there till date. Russia believes that these war assets are theirs and they want to retrieve them but they wouldn’t say this in the media.
There are so many things that Russia is actually fighting for, but some of these things aren’t said openly. Russia wants these warheads especially now that Ukraine wants to join NATO and continues to romance with Europe. The perception from Russia is that if they lose Ukraine, they probably have lost the entire Soviet.
Ukraine is the biggest country in Europe after Russia and Ukraine is also very vast in terms of technology. Russia believes that with Ukraine on its side, they could wield more power among European nations. The Black Sea which is mostly to the Ukrainian side is another asset that Russians don’t want to get to the enemy.
On the other hand, Ukrainians are concerned about the perception of Russia as a hostile nation. They don’t want to be painted the same way as hostile and unfriendly in the European Union. Ukraine is the western side of Russia. Ukraine believes that other countries are benefitting more by becoming part of the European Union and other continental agreements. They have been looking for an opportunity to move out of the click with Russia.
How have Nigerian students in Ukraine fared since the war began and who’s responsible for their welfare?
One of the beautiful things about most schools in Ukraine is that they are connected to underground channels. The war started during a break period for most of the institutions and some students had travelled. Most institutions swiftly made arrangements for their students to travel to neighbouring countries as soon as the war started. The university where I studied, National Aerospace University, Kharkiv, was also an institute for the manufacturing of weapons for the Soviet Army before it was converted to a university. This school would also be a target for the Russians because there are also war assets there. The school is fortunate to have bomb protective buildings and an underground channel for evacuation.
Some of the Nigerian students have said that they want to stay back and fight for Ukraine. Most students have left the country, but there is a particular Nigerian student at the National Aerospace University whose whereabouts remains unknown since the crisis started. The last information about him was that he was going to cross the border, but no one can account for him. The Nigerian government has sent information via Twitter for Nigerian students and they have been able to do headcount and open border channels for the evacuation of students through Poland and Hungary. The problem at the initial stage was that after the 22-hour train ride to the Polish border a lot of them couldn’t access Poland because the refugee camp was said to be filled up. Nigerians and other nationals didn’t get food or shelter and most of them had to turn back with the option of going through Romania.
Most countries pushed for their citizens to evacuate Ukraine through Poland but Ukraine is also surrounded by Kazakhstan, Moldova, Belarus, Hungary and others. However, it is better for anyone fleeing Ukraine not to go through countries that were Soviet in the past except the ones currently supporting Ukraine during this war. Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Belarus were part of the Soviet and some are still supporting Russia.
The people in the heart of Ukraine, Kyiv and the business city of the nation, Kharkiv, are more civilized and liberal. They speak russian language but the ones closer to the borders speak ukrainski.
Some of the reported grievances of Russia is Ukraine’s decision to join NATO. Are there other factors beyond this?
This is part of the problem but Ukraine wants to identify more with the Western world. Russia isn’t in support of Ukraine joining NATO. Russia is scared because the security details and strategies of Ukraine are similar to that of Russia. Russia will be easy to infiltrate with Ukraine on the Western side. Russia doesn’t want to be exposed because Ukraine is strategically close to Russia in terms of landmass, language and way of life. Ukrainians speak Russian. I was trained in Ukraine for many years but I speak Russian. I don’t speak ukrainski but I learnt Russian in Ukraine. There are more people speaking Russian in Ukraine than ukrainski. So, both nations are one in terms of language.
Another thing is that there are nuclear weapons in Ukraine that were kept there during World War II that Russia wants to retrieve. There is also the Black Sea which is around Crimea and Russia wants to have control of this area. For the marine activities of Russia, this Black Sea is very important as it is where Russia begins its marine surveillance and connects other countries. Allowing Ukraine to join NATO and have access to the Black Sea will make Russia porous and they know this.
Ukraine is also regarded as a highly powerful country because of their human capital. When it comes to programming, development of ammunition and airspace experts, you can’t do without Ukraine. Russia knows that Ukraine makes it more powerful and they don’t want to lose their fear factor. Russia may be more powerful and have the biggest landmass connecting Europe to America and Asia; they still respect Ukraine. Russians are powerful people and very secretive. When I was in Ukraine doing my practical, they would fight and go the extra mile to protect their intelligence and security. They can’t phantom an infiltration. In America, any national can rise to become anything including the President. In Russia, the highest any foreigner has attained is a top position in their police force several years ago. There is also discrimination in Russia.
This war isn’t a good thing but I don’t see Russia backing down. However, I believe there is room for negotiation and this could happen with Ukraine giving Russia the things they want such as warheads and other military assets. If Ukraine finally pulls away from Russia, there will always be a cold war that wouldn’t die but be suppressed.
If Ukraine is to join NATO, Russia could demand to have its security personnel stationed around the Black Sea to protect its territory and prevent an invasion. Russia would also be demanding the over 100 warheads buried in several parts of Ukraine during the Soviet. However, if Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and was contributing, they also have a right to own part of the warheads because they were a member state.
There might also be a demand by Russia for some states around the Black Sea, but I believe that there could be a successful negotiation. It is also important to note that China has aligned with Russia and Turkey would have aligned with Russia but for the missiles that hit a Turkey ship.