Anchored in the Dnieper River: Egyptian sailors want to escape Russian-Ukrainian war

Zeinab El-Gendy , Tuesday 29 Mar 2022

A group of Egyptian sailors who have found themselves stuck in the heart of the Russian invasion of Ukraine for more than a month are seeking to return home as they fear on their lives.

Dnieper River
Smoke resulted from the fights in Kherson captured by Hamda Aionu on the deck of Rek Noble vessel in the Dnieper River (Photo : Hamda Aionu)

“We are a crew made of 20 members, only the captain is Lebanese, and head of marine engineers is Syrian while the rest are Egyptians,” Hamda Aionu, an Egyptian marine engineer and member of Rek Noble bulk cargo vessel told Ahram Online on Tuesday.

“We arrived at Kherson a couple of days before the Russian invasion and we have been stuck in front of the Kherson Port since then,” he said, adding “it has been so dangerous so far; the shelling and strikes continue till now.”

According to the VesselFinder website, the Rek Noble arrived in Kherson on 22 February from Misrata, Libya.

Two days later, Russia started its invasion, which would go on to have significant political, economic and social impacts on the world.

The vessel is currently anchored in the mouth of Dnieper River, where it has witness military operations, including shelling on the Ukrainian mainland.

“The food and drink are not enough for more than 10 [more] days,” Ainou told Ahram Online, describing how he and the rest of the crew are washing themselves in the Dnieper River to conserve their onboard water.

“We are worried, our families are worried and it is dangerous; the battles do not stop,” Aionu, who is originally from the city of Rosetta in the Behaira governorate, told Ahram Online.

In early March, news reports described how hundreds of sailors from around the globe were trapped in the Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea.

One Bangladeshi crew member on a bulk carrier was killed and others were injured with serious burns when a missile struck their cargo.

In mid-March, Panama announced three Panamanian-flags ships in the Black sea had been struck by Russian missiles since the start of the Russian invasion to Ukraine.

According to the Panama’s Maritime Authority, at least other 10 other Panamanian-flagged ships are still stuck in the black Sea as the Russian Navy forces are restricting ships from leaving the area.

Rek Noble is one of them.

Only a week ago, Ainou and the rest of the Egyptian sailors managed to get a hold of the Egyptian embassy in Kyiv for help.

Currently Hamda Ainou and the rest of the Egyptian members of the crew are hoping that on Wednesday they will be allowed to leave the vessel and enter Ukraine despite not having entry permits.

“The Lebanese captain and the Syrian marine engineer got their permits, and they are the [only] ones who can order us to leave the ship. If they have their permits then maybe we will be granted permits too,” he told Ahram Online, wondering at the same what they would do if they are not granted permits.

Another question facing the Egyptian crew is how they will leave Kherson and to get to safety once ashore. The Egyptian embassy has already managed to evacuate the Egyptians in Kherson.  

Ainou has told Ahram Online that the head of the Egyptian community in Ukraine Ali Farouk attempted to get permits for them but failed.

He also said the Egyptian embassy has been trying to get permits for the Egyptian sailors to go ashore.

The embassy expressed that it wished that it knew about the crew earlier as it could have been easier to evacuate them, according to Ainou.

Kherson, a city of 200,000 people, has already fallen under Russian control. Fighting between the two sides has continued, however, as Ukrainian forces launched a counterattack a couple of days ago to retake the city.

Earlier this week, the Egyptian foreign ministry and the Egyptian community announced the death of the first Egyptian citizen in the conflict due to the Russian shelling in the besieged city of Mariupol.

Egypt has been pushing forward with efforts to bring its nationals home from Ukraine. Prior to the Russian invasion, around 6,000 Egyptians lived in Ukraine, including 3,000 students studying at the country’s universities, especially in the field of medicine.

Over the past three weeks, scores of Egyptian expats have already crossed the borders into Romania, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. 

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