Ukrainian refugee students in Taiwan face threat from powerful neighbors

Ukrainian refugee students in Taiwan face threat from powerful neighbors

Barely making it to her college dorm in Taiwan, Anna Fursik jumped over the roar of fighter planes, drowning her in memory of the war in Ukraine from which she had just fled.

The student is one of eight young Ukrainians who recently arrived for scholarships in Taichung, in the island’s midwest, drawn to Taiwanese democracy and a sense of community with a shared future caused by the constant threat of invasion by a neighbour. More and more aggressive.

The aircraft that surprised Anna came from a nearby air base in response to the increased raids of Chinese fighters in the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone (Adiz).

“The first time, I was afraid, because I thought the war had begun. I was mentally affected by the war in Ukraine,” the 20-year-old explains.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, many Taiwanese saw a clearer picture of their worst fear: making good on its promise to annex the island they consider part of its territory.

A Chinese official recently warned that Beijing “will not hesitate to start a war” if the island declares independence.

Roman Koval, a 28-year-old flight attendant from Donbass, said he chose to move to Taiwan in part because of what he calls “similar threats” to his home country.

– ‘Freedom and democracy’ –

He urged Taiwan to learn from the Ukrainian experience and “always prepare and be prepared.”

He said: “Ukrainians always believed (…) that the United States would come to our rescue, and that Europe would come to our rescue. But it turned out that no one had come to save us.”

“We are the ones who will protect ourselves and we are the ones who fight.”

Taiwanese public opinion overwhelmingly supported Ukraine.

A call for donations raised nearly 33 million euros in four weeks. President Tsai Ing-wen and other senior officials donated a month’s salary.

Tunghai University in Taichung has received a donation of 1.36 million euros to welcome Ukrainian students.

Ms. Tsai drew parallels between Taiwan and Ukraine.

A picture of Taiwanese orchids painted in the colors of Ukraine was posted on social media with these words: “I hope freedom and democracy will continue to flourish in our two countries.”

– Freedom and democracy –

Anna, who fled from Lviv in western Ukraine and wants to become a Mandarin teacher, explains that she chose Taiwan precisely because she wanted to live in a “democratic and free” environment.

“I didn’t choose China because of communism, which would make life less practical,” she told AFP in perfect Mandarin.

According to her 20-year-old compatriot Alina Kupri, Taiwan has assets that Ukraine did not have in the face of a foreign military operation: the semiconductor industry.

The island makes some of the most advanced chips in the world, a vital component of the global technology industry.

“It would be really dangerous if China invaded Taiwan, it would affect global trade forever, not like Ukraine,” she said.

“And I hope China won’t do that.”

Alina, a business administration student, hopes to return home to start her career and use what she learned in Taichung to strengthen business ties between Ukraine and Taiwan.

– “home sick” –

But she does not leave to think of her parents who remained in Ukraine because they are “connected to their homeland”.

Alina’s university application was prioritized because her hometown of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Kryvyi Rig, was heavily bombed.

She explains, “I miss Ukraine so much, I feel homesick, I think people should enjoy every moment in life, be grateful for every day.”

There is still hope for a final victory for Ukraine among the students.

“I think it will take some time but I know we will win,” Anna says.

“We defend our country, our independence, our freedom, our choice not to be part of Russia, as well as the principles of democracy.”

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