Exiled Chinese dissident travels to Ukraine in bid to document war

Chinese embassy officials didn't appear to know the invasion was coming, according to Taiwanese in the country.
By Hsia Hsiao-hwa, Qiao Long and Jia Ao
Exiled Chinese dissident travels to Ukraine in bid to document war He Anquan, a US-based Chinese dissident currently in Ukraine.
Residents of the Ukrainian city of Lviv are suspicious of strangers, and often ask people shooting video or taking photos to show their passports, an exiled Chinese dissident who traveled to Ukraine to document the resistance told RFA.

"I am currently in Lviv, a city in the west of Ukraine," U.S.-based dissident He Anquan told RFA. "Both the authorities and the people are very nervous, but it's a fairly orderly kind of tension, because the war hasn't gotten here yet."

"The fighting is mostly around Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, the second city, but this city is also prepared," He said. "If someone who looks like a stranger starts taking photos on the streets, people there will want to know where they're from and ask for their passport."

"Restaurants here are basically closed, but bakeries and supermarkets are still open," he said.

He said he took a flight via Poland in a bid to report from the front line of the war, but that he was finding it harder than he expected.

"I was disgusted with Russia's use of force ... [so] I wanted to express my opposition to this violence by going to Ukraine in person," He said.

"The biggest difficulty has been ... blending in with my surroundings, because people are on a war footing," he said. "This means that I haven't been able to shoot sometimes ... I'd like to be able to share more video and photos."

He said Lviv has become a transit point for refugees -- now more than a million -- fleeing Ukraine.

"I saw some food supply stations at the train station, as well as big tents to give refugees some shelter from the wind and rain," He said. "It's still pretty cold [here], with the average temperature around zero."

He said the Chinese government appears to have picked a side already in the conflict, owing to its "quasi-alliance" with Russia.

He said the mood on the streets is currently a mixture of fear and defiance.

"They are extremely angry about the Russian invasion, and while there is fear mixed in with that, there is more of a sense of courage and shared hatred," He said.

Luo, a Taiwanese national currently in Poland after fleeing Ukraine. RFA
Luo, a Taiwanese national currently in Poland after fleeing Ukraine. RFA
'You just want revenge'

Meanwhile, a Taiwanese national who is currently in Poland after fleeing Ukraine called on his 23 million compatriots to stand firm in the face of aggression from China.

"I used to think that if there was a war in Taiwan, I would be the first to support surrender," the man, who gave only the surname Luo, told RFA.

"But when your homeland is invaded, your people's lives and property destroyed, and your relatives and friends become casualties, the hatred in your heart doesn't allow you to surrender, and you just want revenge, and an outlet for your anger," he said.

"The biggest revelation for me is that Taiwan may have to recognize that freedom may not be free," Luo said. "There is another country with different values right next door who don't accept our values, our choices."

"That's why Taiwan could be in danger," he said. "The enemy is the one with their guns pointing at us."

China has stepped up its military saber-rattling in the Taiwan Strait, flying regular incursions into Taiwan's air defense zone, and refuses to rule out annexing democratic Taiwan, which has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), nor formed part of the People's Republic of China.

Luo said he was surprised at how soon the missiles started landing, and had the impression that China was caught off guard by the war.

"I had always thought that given China's close relationship with Russia, they would be the first to know [about a war], but China never said anything to its nationals about evacuating, so I thought Russia probably wouldn't start military action," Luo said.

"When it started, I found out that China was completely in the dark about it from start to finish, so I guess Russia and China never communicated on the matter [beforehand]."

The first group of Taiwanese were evacuated from Ukraine on the afternoon of the first day, Feb. 24, while the first group of Chinese didn't leave until Feb. 28, sources told RFA.

A Taiwanese national who gave only the nickname Jacky said he was evacuated to the Baltic by the Taiwanese foreign ministry, although some photos of the group were posted online by Chinese nationals, who claimed they were being evacuated by China.

"To be honest, I can't understand, since Russia and China are such good allies, even brothers, why the news was so slow in getting to them; why they got it so badly wrong," Jacky said. "Did Xi Jinping and Putin even talk about this?"

The first group of Taiwanese -- 19 adults and two children -- arrived in Warsaw at about 10.00 p.m. on Feb. 26 local time, after 53 hours in transit, he said.

Luo, who lived in Kyiv, said his evacuation was also slow, with a journey that would usually take 30 minutes taking six hours, and amid long lines outside ATMs everywhere.

"War is so cruel," Luo said. "You can't sleep at night for the sound of artillery fire, and your life is in danger every single day."

"Even the most pro-Russian people in Ukraine are going to hate Russia and hate Putin now," he said.

TV host censored

Meanwhile, CCP internet censors have deleted the social media accounts of a TV host who called Putin a "crazy Russian," and called for an end to the war.

Host Jin Xing, who has more than 13 million followers on Weibo, also pointed out that a news anchor for state broadcaster CCTV had appeared wearing yellow and blue, taking her choice of clothing to mean tacit support for Ukraine.

Current affairs commentator Sun Dazhi said everyone is expecting to toe the party line on the war in Ukraine, which China declines to describe as an invasion.

"There can be no dissenting voices; we have to be of one mind, and fall in with what the government is saying," Sun told RFA. "There is only the voice of the party in China now."

Jin Xing, 54 , is also a modern dancer with about 13.58 million followers on Weibo . Jin Xing's last blocked anti-war post received 45,000 likes and nearly 10,000 retweets.

Jingdezhen-based scholar Pang Xinhua cited media reports as saying that people making critical comments about the war on social media are being detained for up to 15 days' administrative detention.

"There is a lot of information about internet users being detained or punished for making some comment," Pang said. "They post a few complaints on the internet, on WeChat Moments or on Weibo ... then they are detained for 5-15 days or fined."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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