As war rages on at home, Ukrainian students explore options in Taiwan

04/23/2022 05:56 PM
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Kateryna Leliukh in an undated photo. Courtesy of Kateryna Leliukh
Kateryna Leliukh in an undated photo. Courtesy of Kateryna Leliukh

Taipei, April 23 (CNA) Kateryna Leliukh spent her 26th birthday in quarantine at a hotel in northern Taiwan Thursday, a country where before her arrival a few days ago she did not know a single person.

Following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, she is now about to embark on academic studies in Taiwan.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in political science in 2017 Leliukh worked in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, until Russia invaded on Feb. 24, drastically changing her life.

Leliukh left Kyiv in early March for the west of the country. She eventually managed to cross the border and arrived in Warsaw, Poland, where she stayed with a friend and began thinking about her next move.

"I was lost," Leliukh said of her situation at that time during a virtual interview with CNA on Friday. After some consideration, she decided to return to school and pursue a master's degree.

It was at that time a university professor she knows sent her a link to a scholarship program organized by Academia Sinica, the top research institute in Taiwan.

"My feeling told me I should go to Taiwan," Leliukh said. "I just wanted to live in a country that completely shares Ukrainian ideals and ideas," she said, adding she believes Taiwan is an open society.

Leliukh said she was also impressed by the COVID-19 research Academia Sinica has reportedly undertaken. It is a "great honor" to go to an institute that is "fighting with such a great world problem," she said.

Leliukh is one of 12 Ukrainians selected for a program launched by Academia Sinica on March 16, offering scholarships to "Ukrainian scholars and students to continue their research and education in Taiwan during this time of hardship," the institute said.

The idea is to take them away from the conflict as quickly as possible and support their academic activities in Taiwan, said Meng Tzu-ching (孟子青), director of Academia Sinica's Department of International Affairs, on Friday.

After their arrival in Taiwan on April 17, the 12 Ukrainian nationals will each spend at least three months exploring their research topics under the guidance of an advisor from the institute, Meng said.

These people stood out from 153 other applicants because of their strong portfolios and academic research potential, Meng said, adding that the program ultimately aims to pave the way for them to pursue a degree or even a career in Taiwan.

In addition, Academia Sinica plans to help an additional 15 Ukrainian scholars continue their research in Taiwan under the same program co-funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology, he noted.

For Maxim Malyi, one of the 12 Ukrainians, the Academia Sinica program offered him an opportunity to continue his academic work as his PhD studies in China were disrupted by the pandemic.

"I think there is no chance for me to be there [in China] right now, even though there is a war in [my] country," said Malyi, noting that the Chinese government has closed its borders to foreign nationals -- including international students -- since the spread of COVID-19 in early 2020.

Maxim Malyi.
Maxim Malyi.

The 26-year-old student who specializes in wind power engineering also yearned to visit Taiwan and explore career opportunities.

"I study renewable energy, and it is a growing field here," he said of Taiwan, "when considering some career development, it is [a] very good place to go."

Malyi said he intends to look for a research project to join in the next few months. "I think it can be related to energy storage systems...I'm still exploring the options available here."

Meanwhile, Viktoriia Hlushchenko, a graduate student studying marketing from Kyiv, said she looks forward to studying and learning things in Taiwan that can eventually be applied to the recovery of Ukraine after the war is over.

Hlushchenko also learned of the Academia Sinica program from a professor at her university.

The 22-year-old said while she also had an opportunity to go to Canada, she eventually opted for Taiwan. "I decided to [come] to Taiwan because Asia is...more promising," Hlushchenko said.

Asked whether there had been a change in Ukrainians' attitude toward Taiwan and China after the Russian invasion began, Hlushchenko commented that Ukrainians were "very disappointed" about China's position on the war.

On the other hand, Taiwan's support for Ukraine, including a solidarity event held in Taipei last weekend, had been shared on social media and seen by many Ukrainians, she added.

China's "unclear" position makes it seem as if it is supportive of Russia, Malyi said, adding many Ukrainian officials were disappointed about the situation.

"At the same time, Taiwan is supporting Ukraine. So I think people will reconsider the relationship with these countries."

Viktoriia Hlushchenko.
Viktoriia Hlushchenko.

For Leliukh, despite spending her birthday on April 21 alone in a quarantine hotel room in Taiwan, she felt anything but alone.

The hotel presented her with a cake and her hosts from Academia Sinica congratulated her and agreed to celebrate the event with all the students after their quarantine ends, Leliukh said.

She also organized a charity fundraiser on social media to mark her birthday and received 5,000 Ukrainian Hryvnia (US$169), which she plans to donate to the Come Back Alive Foundation that supports the armed forces in Ukraine.

"I was happy that both Taiwan and Ukraine people made my 26th birthday so nice," Leliukh told CNA.

(By Teng Pei-ju)

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