“We have already removed more than 500 Latinos from Ukraine. The latest reports spoke of 517 people. Some were in really critical situations. There were those who arrived with clear signs of hypothermia. Others who had not eaten for days because they did not live in large cities, but in villages far from everything, where help does not arrive. We’ve taken out octogenarians who could barely move. We have maintained close contact with all of them at all times. It has been hard, but most are now safe.”
It is not usual to find politicians who, when problems come, get into the mud. In the case of louis go it is verbatim. He is the Vice Minister of Human Mobility of the Ecuadorian government and lives in Quito. But when the humanitarian refugee crisis began, he left for the Ukrainian borders with a contingent from his government, with the aim of getting as many compatriots as possible out of the war. He has not been the only one of his executive to work on the ground, but he is perhaps the most visible face of this expedition that is now ending.
Although this is not a well-known fact, Ecuadorians abound in Ukraine. It is one of the favorite destinations for young people from that country when they decide to come to study in Europe. The cost of living is the decisive factor in choosing a destination. It is estimated that a student can live in that country for a year for about 3,000 dollars. And although the Ecuadorian is the most present Ibero-American nationality in Ukraine, there are also hundreds of Chileans, Colombians, Cubans or Peruvians living there. The Ukrainian exodus also speaks Spanish.
“Before the invasion began, we had already proceeded to map Ecuadorian citizens residing in Ukraine”, explains Luis Vayas by videoconference to ‘El Periódico de España. He speaks from Poland, because he has not yet returned to his country. “Europe does not seem strange to me. I already lived in Spain”, says this member of the Ecuadorian Government who was residing in Madrid during his time as a worker at the embassy of his country in Spain.
The concern for the conflict in Ukraine went, in his case, beyond the mere geopolitical interest that is assumed for a minister who is an expert in migration. In this case, the lives of almost a thousand compatriots were going. in totall are 870 Ecuadorians currently residing in Ukraine. Especially young people who go to kyiv to complete their careers.
“The figures say 870, but we think there are some more. The vast majority, we estimate that 85% are students. They come to study Medicine or some Engineering. But there is also the other 15%. They are Ecuadorians who already live in Ukraine, they have formed a family and do not want to leave”, says Vayas. Be that as it may, the deputy minister points out that concern for the safety of almost a thousand compatriots led his government to establish its own operation to return them home.
“The first handicap we found was that We do not have an embassy or a consulate in Ukraine or Poland.. We had to do all the procedures from the Embassy of Ecuador in Vienna”, says Vayas. The second was “the documentary situation in which some of the Ecuadorians there found themselves. Because Ecuador is not a Schengen zone and in some cases they asked for six months of passport validity, which many did not have. This was what raised the alarms of the Foreign Ministry of Ecuador”.
After identifying the cases and making available several telephone advice and help lines, his government displaced six people to the different Ukrainian borders. They sent troops to Poland and Hungary, the countries that are hosting the most refugees. But also to Slovakia and Romania. The only country that was deprived of this device was Moldova“but because it was the first to close accesses,” says Vayas, who points out that they have achieved, through their conversations with bordering countries, to relax visa conditions for countries outside the Schengen area.
The operation has consisted, broadly speaking, in coordinating efforts with the humanitarian entities that are working on the ground to get people out of Ukraine. Especially with Red Cross. They contacted compatriots in the affected territories and set up telephone lines to offer help.
“We received a huge number of calls. Both from people who were inside, as well as from relatives from Ecuador giving or requesting information.” The Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry worked side by side with these entities, providing data and facilitating contacts. And beyond the administrative procedures, the Vayas team has been on the ground, receiving in person the Latinos who were leaving Ukraine. They have been placed on a series of humanitarian flights to Ecuador. In total there have been three planes chartered for this purpose. The last one, last weekend, thus completing the evacuation of some 500 citizens of Ecuador.
Some other citizens of other Latin American countries have also traveled on these flights. “We have taken Colombians, Peruvians or Mexicans. Our relations with those countries are excellent and we have collaborated together at all times. Peru, for example, does have an embassy in Poland and we have coordinated to obtain better results. They have let us use their facilities and that has made our work a lot easier.” After arriving in Ecuador, Latinos from other latitudes have been redirected later on other flights to their countries of origin.
The only Latino residents in Ukraine who have not wanted to return to their native country have been the Cubans. There are an estimated 300 islanders residing in the country. But the majority have either chosen to stay and ask for weapons to defend the countryor have applied for asylum in other countries, like the group of seven Cubans who formally asked the United States be welcomed.
The deputy minister emphasizes that “not all cases were in the same situation. There were some who couldn’t get out. Not all of them were in big cities like kyiv. Some compatriots were trapped in towns where food or fuel no longer reach.” Others have been trapped in an odyssey of kilometers and uncertainty.
“Seven Ecuadorians left Sumy (in the north of the country) in a bus convoy that we did not know where it was going. First we received the information that they would leave by Kursk, what is russian territory. But they didn’t come out there. Then they informed us that they were heading for the city of Poltava. Later it came to us that they were going south, in the direction of the Black Sea, to exit via Turkey“recalls Vayas. Finally, said contingent managed to leave “through the west. They arrived in the city of Lviv and from there they went to the border with Poland”, he concludes.
It is just an example, but each story contains a drama. From the Ecuadorians who have not wanted to leave the country because they have been living in Ukraine for a long time, to the two Ukrainian octogenarians who have asked to be taken to Peru, because they know people there. In total, there have been close to a thousand Latinos who have taken advantage of this operation.
The Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry is now reviewing the figures to issue the final reports on the operation. They describe it as a success and Vayas himself has shared on his networks the photos in which he leaves the airport accompanied by the last compatriots who were left to leave in their transit through Warsaw. The last ones who wanted out. Because, despite the device, there are many Ecuadorians who already feel more Ukrainian than from their homeland and have decided to stay and fight.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.