At least four Chinese students have been killed in Kharkiv following a Russian attack on their dormitory building, Ukrainian media reported on Friday.
“On the night of March 3, Russian invaders hit the dormitory of the Kharkiv State Academy of Culture, which is in the Moskovsky district of the city on Gvardeytsev-Shironintsev Street, with targeted fire,” the Obozrevatel news website reported.
It cited preliminary estimates as saying that 13 students, including four from China and one from India, had died, naming two of the Chinese students as Jin Tianhao and Li Zhi. RFA was unable to confirm the report independently.
Meanwhile, social media posts have been circulating showing large numbers of Chinese students still stranded in Ukraine, packed into rooms in a bid to stay safe amid the fighting and shelling, with some of them running out of food.
One student posted: “There are still 138 people here in the Sumy region of Ukraine who haven’t been evacuated yet. Please can the relevant departments coordinate and let us go home.”
Chinese national Fang Lei, who is trapped in the southeastern city of Melitópol, said he had tried to post similar appeals on Chinese social media, but the posts were blocked.
“There are a lot of people trapped in Kharkiv, and this piece of information will be covered up immediately,” Fang said.
“Comments and likes are not allowed. Those of us who cannot evacuate from the war zone don’t get a mention.”
“I can’t leave, so I want to speak out and try to help the 138 students, because they are in a terrible situation with not enough food to survive,” Fang said.
“If I get blown up, then at least I have left a note … I want the world to know what it feels like to be left behind to die,” he said.
Meanwhile, a Chinese student from the eastern province of Shandong posted a video saying he had lost his passport, and couldn’t cross the border into Romania.
“Please can the media contact the [Chinese] embassy in Romania and have them pick me up at the border,” the student said in a video appeal.
Chinese national Wang Longde, who currently lives in Laos, said he had seen a number of messages from Chinese nationals in Ukraine calling for help from the embassy.
“Chinese students are getting bombed in Ukraine, and the embassy hasn’t been very pro-active [in protecting them], nor offered any aftercare service,” Wang told RFA.
“The embassy should be bringing all of the students in Ukraine to the embassy, so they can be protected,” he said.
An employee who answered the phone at the Chinese embassy in Romania said the cost of flights out of the country has skyrocketed, but said it couldn’t change a price set by the airlines.
“The airlines set the price, so we’re looking at 16,000-17,000 yuan at the personal expense [of evacuees],” the embassy said. “There are two flights today, but the follow-up arrangements aren’t going very well because there are too many people right now.”
“There’s a limit to how many people we can have in the embassy, and we don’t know about the rest.”
Repeated calls to the Chinese embassy in Ukraine rang unanswered on Friday.
Beijing slow to act
A former international news editor in the northern Chinese province of Hebei surnamed Gao said Beijing had been slow to move to protect its own since the invasion.
“So many expats have been evacuated already, and only the Chinese are left,” Gao said. “But to get out of Kharkiv to Poland, you would have to cross the entire war-zone, so it’s not too hard to understand.”
“[Also], China has a good relationship with Russia … and it probably expected [Russia] to take the whole of Ukraine in about 48 hours,” he said.
There was no visible coverage of the reported attack on the English and the Chinese versions of Xinhua news agency or the People’s Daily by around 1300 GMT on Friday, with both outlets focusing on Thursday’s negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, and China’s remarks at the United Nations Security Council.
Neither had the Chinese embassy in Ukraine made a public statement by that time.
However, Russia’s official Sputnik News Agency and China’s international state broadcaster CGTN reported that two Chinese students had been shot and wounded as they tried to leave Kharkiv.
Most official media coverage led with ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping’s appearance at the opening of the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, which Beijing is hosting, and the opening of the country’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC).
Anger over deaths
Beijing-based independent journalist Gao Yu said she was saddened by the report.
“I am very sad and angry that four Chinese students were killed in the bombing,” Gao said. “It just goes to show that Putin’s barbaric war of aggression should be sanctioned by international law.”
“The Chinese government has all along taken a position consistent with that of the aggressor; it hasn’t viewed Putin’s actions as aggression against Ukraine,” she said.
She said the embassy and consular authorities in Ukraine also bear some responsibility for the reported deaths.
On the Sina Weibo social media platform, a post from user @Homer_takes_a_nap posted about the deaths of international students in Kharkiv, repeating a claim in Russian state media that the attack was the work of “Ukrainian Nazis.”
Russian president Vladimir Putin has claimed he launched the war to “denazify” Ukraine, and Chinese media have largely repeated Russian propaganda about the war uncritically, while government censors have banned comments and reporting that is critical of Russia.
Another Weibo post from @idlers_gossip linked to the Obozrevatel report, saying the attack was by the Russian army. The post had been forwarded more than 1,000 times by 1400 GMT, but comments were unavailable, likely due to heavy-handed moderation on all topics linked to Ukraine.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.