Approximately 10 Taiwanese citizens have fought as foreign volunteers in Ukraine over the past year, motivated by the desire to uphold the principles of freedom and democracy in the face of an ominous Chinese threat.
The Taiwanese nationals became involved in the Ukrainian conflict shortly after it broke out in 2022. Tony Lu, who traveled from Taiwan to Ukraine just two weeks after the war started, initially planned to distribute aid, but eventually became a foreign fighter.
He was moved to action by the reports of conflict in Ukraine, which he saw as a warning to his own homeland, Taiwan.
Lu compared China’s threats to Ukraine to its threats against Taiwan, stating that “China is threatening and intimidating us… one day, missiles really might rain down here [in Taiwan].”
Jack Yao, another Taiwanese foreign fighter, was inspired to join the conflict after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for international support. Yao was involved in reconnaissance, supply transport, and evacuating wounded soldiers. He believed that if Taiwan were to be invaded by China, it would be difficult to ask for help from other countries without first offering help to others.
The Taiwanese volunteers underwent 20 days of training in Kyiv before being deployed to the front lines. They learned to handle Soviet weaponry and to administer emergency medical care. Despite the language barrier, they held the line with Ukrainian troops and carried out relief work in areas where the conflict had caused a humanitarian crisis.
However, the experience was not without danger. Lu recounted a moment in which an artillery shell landed in his trench but did not explode, narrowly sparing his unit. Yao left Ukraine after the conflict intensified, stating that the situation was eerily similar to the build-up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The volunteers were not always understood by Ukrainians, who sometimes mistook them for Chinese fighters, given the close ties between China and Russia. However, the Taiwanese nationals carried their passports and the Taiwanese flag, making it clear that they were from Taiwan, not China. Their faith also helped them through difficult moments. Yao, who is Buddhist, carried a small Ukrainian Bible in his pocket for protection.
The Taiwanese volunteers believe that their experience in Ukraine will serve them well if China invades Taiwan. They feel that they must be prepared for any eventuality, given China’s increasing military build-up near Taiwan.
They believe that Japan and the Philippines are also concerned about China’s military aggression. Lu said, “We must train, we must be ready – we’re an island nation; we can only rely on ourselves.”