Kateryna Leliukh spent her 26th birthday in quarantine at a hotel in northern Taiwan on Thursday, a country where before her arrival a few days ago she did not know a single person.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, 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 early last month for the west of the country. She eventually crossed 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 on Friday regarding her situation after the invasion.
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.
“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.”
Leliukh said she was also impressed by the COVID-19 research Academia Sinica has 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 the institute 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 intent is to help remove young people from the conflict as quickly as possible and support their academic ambitions in Taiwan, Meng Tzu-ching (孟子青), director of Academia Sinica’s Department of International Affairs, said on Friday.
The 12 Ukrainians selected for scholarships arrived in Taiwan on Sunday last week, and are to spend the coming months exploring their research topics under the guidance of an adviser from the institute, Meng said.
The selected candidates stood out from 153 other applicants through their strong portfolios and academic research potential, Meng said, adding that the program aims to pave the way for them to pursue a degree or possibly a career in Taiwan.
Academia Sinica also plans to help an additional 15 Ukrainian academics continue their research in Taiwan under the same program, funded in collaboration with the Ministry of Science and Technology, he said.
For Maxim Malyi, another of the 12 accepted to the program, it offered him an opportunity to continue his academic work after his doctorate studies in China were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think there is no chance for me to be there right now, even though there is a war in [my] country,” Malyi said, adding that the Chinese government has closed its borders to foreign nationals since the spread of COVID-19 in early 2020.
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 find 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,” he said.
Viktoriia Hlushchenko, a graduate student from Kyiv studying marketing, said she looks forward to studying and learning things in Taiwan that can be applied to Ukraine’s recovery after the war is over.
Hlushchenko also learned of the Academia Sinica program from a professor at her university.
The 22-year-old also had an opportunity to go to Canada, but she opted for Taiwan because she said she thought Asia had more promising opportunities.
Asked if Ukrainians had changed their perceptions of Taiwan and China after the Russian invasion, Hlushchenko said that Ukrainians were “very disappointed” about China’s position on the war, adding that Taiwan’s support for Ukraine, including a solidarity event in Taipei last weekend, had been shared on social media and was seen by many Ukrainians.
China’s “unclear” position makes it seem as if it is supportive of Russia, Malyi said.
“Taiwan is supporting Ukraine. So I think people will reconsider the relationship with these countries,” she said.
For Leliukh, despite spending her 26th birthday alone in a quarantine hotel room in Taiwan on Thursday, she felt anything but alone.
The hotel presented her with a cake, and her hosts from Academia Sinica said they would celebrate with all the students after their quarantine ends, she said.
Leliukh also organized a charity fundraiser on social media and received 5,000 Ukrainian hryvnia (US$169.62) 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,” she said.
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