Some 40 Lebanese students formerly stranded in Ukraine arrived in Lebanon yesterday via the Romanian city of Bucharest. On arrival, the group told local media outlets of the obstacles they had faced, including serious food shortages in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
The head of the country’s High Relief Commission, Major General Mohammad Khair, said: “The task of evacuating Lebanese students from Ukraine was very difficult." He advised other students still trapped inside the country to travel in groups as far as possible, and to try both the Polish and Romanian borers.
The authorities are aware of more than 1,400 Lebanese nationals who have contacted the embassy in Kyiv seeking to go home since the onslaught began on February 24. Of these, Khair said on Wednesday, 450 had clearance to get to Poland and 250 had crossed the border so far. About the same number, he added, were currently on the border waiting to cross and make their way to Warsaw. The next evacuation plane will arrive within 48 hours.
On Monday, the families of some of the students had staged a sit-in in front of the Foreign Ministry building in Beirut. It came after Khair had announced that although evacuation efforts were already under way, the students were only likely to return “before March 4”.
Political Discord in Lebanon Over Official Response to Invasion
The Lebansee Foreign Ministry roundly condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine last Thursday, shortly after the assault began. Its statement read: “Lebanon strongly condemns the invasion of Ukrainian territory and calls on Russia to immediately stop its military operations, withdraw its forces, and resort to dialogue and negotiations.”
Beirut’s official position, however, was criticized internally by some individual Lebanese officials and pro-Hezbollah elements, including Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, Labor Minister Mustafa Bayram, Education Minister Abbas Halabi and Talal Arslan, the pro-Kremlin leader of the Lebanese Democratic Party. The Hezbollah-affiliated newspaper Al-Akhbar said it showed “a flagrant inability to understand global balances”, pointing to the large presence of Lebanese students in Russia as a sign of “huge Lebanese investments in Russia”.
The Russian Embassy in Lebanon responded by issuing a statement on its Facebook page, which said the Foreign Ministry’s position “surprised us by violating the policy of dissociation and by taking one side against another in these events”.
In response, Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib said it was "the country's commitment to international law" that compelled the stance taken. Yesterday, Lebanon was also one of 141 countries of the UN General Assembly that green-lit a motion to “deplore in the strongest terms” the Russian invasion, pronouncing it a violation of the UN Charter.
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