Update: Chinese Embassy in Kiev prepares to bring back Chinese nationals amid escalating Ukraine-Russia crisis
Published: Feb 24, 2022 08:07 PM Updated: Feb 25, 2022 01:03 AM
Ukraines drive their cars and line up outside a gas station in Donbass region on February 24, 2022. Photo: VCG

Ukraines drive their cars and line up outside a gas station in Donbass region on February 24, 2022. Photo: VCG

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After Russian President Vladmir Putin authorized a "special operation" in Donbass region in the early hours on Thursday local time, the situation in Ukraine has been escalating quickly. A number of Chinese living in different cities in Ukraine shared with the Global Times what they saw and heard, with their stories featuring wake-up explosion sounds, fleeing crowds jamming the roads and snapped up supermarket shelves.

The Chinese Embassy in Kiev issued a notice on Thursday in preparation of bringing back Chinese nationals from Ukraine. Given the rapidly deteriorating situation in the country, Chinese nationals and companies are facing high security risks. For this reason, the embassy is preparing charter flights and asked all Chinese nationals to voluntarily register. 

The charter flights will be dispatched according to the safety situation and will be notified in advance, the embassy said.

Chinese living in Ukraine's capital city Kiev told the Global Times that several explosions were heard in the early hours of the day in the city and the air-raid sirens over the city were loud. The roads leading to outside of the city had been crowded with Ukrainians fleeing westward, supermarkets were overwhelmed and banks crowded as people scramble to withdraw money.

A Kiev-based Chinese businessman surnamed Li told the Global Times that he heard four loud bombing sounds in the early hours, and then it basically calmed down, but he could still see some traces of smoke in the air.

Sun Guang, a vlogger from Beijing who has lived in Kiev for two decades, said that he was awaken by a huge bomb going off at about 5:20 am on Thursday. "I never thought the war could come so soon," he told the Global Times, adding that the explosion was about 30 kilometers from his home.

"At that moment I realized the war was really here. I was scared but I have children to take care of and I have to keep calm," Sun said.

A Chinese businesswoman who has lived in Kiev for a decade also told the Global Times that she was awakened by the noise outside at 4 am and later learned that it was Russia starting the operation. 

She said she saw many Ukrainians in the neighborhood fleeing Kiev with their families and heading toward the west. By 6 am, the parking spaces downstairs in her building were completely empty, and by 7 am, the road heading out of the city was jammed in the sound of loud air defense sirens.

"There are also many residents who cannot run away, including the local Chinese who do not have an EU visa," she said. 

She told the Global Times that as of Thursday noon, electricity, water supply and internet were still available. The supermarkets should still be able to provide supplies, she said.

"I received message from the Chinese Embassy which told us to put the Chinese flag on our cars," Sun said. "Now, we have calmed down and I wish the Chinese community could band together to overcome the difficulties." 

Li said there were some local people in Kiev who are very calm. "After that wave of bombing in the morning, people were already jogging and walking their dogs in our neighborhood."

In port city Odessa, police, field units and armored vehicles were everywhere in the city. There were tanks patrolling the streets, a Chinese national working in the city surnamed Wang told the Global Times. 

The airport and port had not been attacked, but they were closed.

Wang said that many Chinese students were calling the embassy to inquire about possible plans to evacuate, as their families and relatives in China are on edge.

The embassy has issued safety alert to Chinese nationals in Ukraine and ask Chinese businesses and students unions to instruct Chinese nationals and offer help to those in need. It advised Chinese nationals to remain indoors and hang Chinese national flags on their cars when going outside. 

Currently, there are about 6,000 Chinese in Ukraine, mainly in Kiev, Lvov, Kharkov, Odessa and Sumy. Their life, study and work were affected, anxiety has increased, but no wave of panic has occurred so far, according to the Chinese Embassy. 

"Although the telecommunication network is currently working, it is not possible to recharge fees for cell phones at the vendor sites," Wang told the Global Times. 

A large number of vehicles were pouring out of the city, and there were significantly fewer pedestrians on the streets. Most stores were closed, only a few remained open, and the shelves were nearly empty, according to Wang.

Chen, who lives on the outskirts of Odessa, said he woke up to the sound of an explosion at about 4 to 5 am. He thought it was a wheel blowing up, but later he was told it was an artillery shell explosion.

"There were a lot of cars lining up at gas stations in the morning. But some gas stations turned off their gas price signs, probably having been out of supply," Chen said. 

A Chinese living in central Ukraine's Poltava Oblast surnamed Dai said he went out shopping in the early morning, but didn't get anything.

"Gas stations, shopping malls, supermarkets, banks were all crowded with people. I couldn't get anything, so I went home and hid," Dai told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Chinese living in Ukraine expressed their expectations for order and peace to be restored.

"Just yesterday, Kievans were still going to work and school, I didn't expect it to be so sudden," the Kiev-based businesswoman said. "But Ukraine also does not have the strength to resist Russia, so maybe the war will end soon."

"In fact, there is no deep hatred between Ukrainian and Russian peoples. Those who are entangled with Russia are mainly Ukrainian political elites and vested interests groups, but many ran away many days ago," Li said, in the hope that the turmoil will end soon.