Female Refugees and Flags: Chinese Internet Reacts to Ukraine

By Alistair Baker-Brian, March 2, 2022

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The war in Ukraine has captured the attention of people around the globe, and those in China are no exception.  

How has the Chinese internet reacted to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? Here we bring you a few of the biggest stories we found online. 


(Female) Ukrainian Refugees Welcome

We start with one of the more disturbing online trends. 

As it appeared that a refugee crisis was looming in Ukraine, some male Chinese netizens made clear they were willing to take in female refugees from the country. 

One post on Weibo states, “Offering shelter for heartbroken Ukrainian girls; must be 18-25 years old and 165-175 centimeters in height; must have no obvious body odor; those with good body get priority.”

See the post in Chinese below.

WechatIMG2121.jpeg

Image via Twitter/@ThisIsWenhao

Meanwhile, another stated that the user was willing to accept “two to three Ukrainian girls,” and even managed to take a geopolitical angle stating that “US imperialists are ruthless, I offer love.”

See the post in Chinese below.

WechatIMG2122.jpeg


Image via Twitter/@ThisIsWenhao

Weibo acted quickly to delete the posts sexualizing the humanitarian crisis. The platform put out a statement saying that it had identified 542 posts with vulgar content related to the war in Ukraine and that 74 accounts would be locked for 30 days. 

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The statement from Weibo mentions "vulgar comments" and specifically refers to accounts talking about "beautiful Ukrainian girls coming to China." Accounts which posted such content have been locked for a 30-day period. Image via Twitter/@ZhouMarrian

Many Weibo users were also quick to condemn the trend with one stating that the perpetrators “didn't understand the real-world impact of gender bullying” and that women would only “speak louder” in response.

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The Weibo post condemns the sexualization of female Ukrainian refugees. Image via Weibo/@Daghe

It was these kind of comments which prompted a response from popular Ukrainian vlogger who goes by the name of 玛莎 (Masha). The vlogger, who makes Chinese-language videos and posts on Chinese social media platforms, stressed to her followers that “war is no joke.”

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Ukrainian vlogger 玛莎. Screengrab via Weibo/@玛莎CN

She urged netizens from around the world to refrain from making jokes about the war in Ukraine, stating that such jokes were “piercing the hearts of Ukrainians” and “making the situation worse for Chinese citizens in Ukraine.” 

On her Weibo account @玛莎CN, the vlogger has posted a number of recent videos of herself in Ukraine showing life on the ground during the war. 

To Flag or Not to Flag?

On February 24, 2022, the day on which Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, the Chinese Embassy in Kyiv made a suggestion to Chinese citizens in the country. 

They told Chinese citizens to display a Chinese flag on their vehicle. The intention was quite clearly to show anyone nearby that those in the vehicle were a neutral bystander in the war, and therefore not to be targeted.

WechatIMG2112.jpeg  

    The notice from the Chinese Embassy in Kyiv suggests citizens to display a Chinese flag on their vehicle. It also suggests to check that fuel will be available if they plan a long journey. Image via Weibo/@廖小和

However, this appeared to contradict later advice by the embassy which stated Chinese citizens in Ukraine “should not highlight their nationality at will.”

A hashtag related to the news has received around 920 million views on Weibo since February 26, 2022.

Why the change?

What’s On Weibo, an English-language site which follows social media trends in China, noted that some Chinese citizens in Ukraine have been on the receiving end of anti-Chinese sentiments.

Some of the people who expressed this view said some Ukrainians were under the impression that China supported Russia’s invasion and, as such, were targeting their anger at Chinese people. 

Former editor of Global Times Hu Xijin took to Weibo to address said anti-China sentiments. He suggested that the anger was most likely due to the fact that China hadn’t assisted Ukraine in the way the United States and other Western countries had.

Nonetheless, he also stressed the impact that online comments could have on the safety of Chinese citizens abroad. He urged netizens to “speak like diplomats” when posting online. 

China is officially neutral on the conflict after having abstained on a United Nations Security Council vote to condemn the Russian invasion. 

Some Ukrainians may be upset that China decided to lift restrictions on wheat imports from Russia at a time when many other countries have imposed economic sanctions. 

Another suggestion by some Weibo users for the change in message is the decision by Ukraine's government to give guns to civilians. 

One user stated that as this is now the case, Chinese citizens could be at risk if people with a gun are influenced by any anti-Chinese sentiment.  

WechatIMG2126.jpeg

The Weibo post suggests that Chinese citizens in Ukraine must exercise caution and not tell people their nationality at will. The post suggests that Chinese citizens may be at risk of shooting by Ukrainians influenced by anti-Chinese sentiment. Image via Weibo/@HW前HR 

Regardless of the reasoning, the message from the Chinese Embassy is now clear – don’t go around making clear your nationality at will.

Chinese Citizen Injured in Gunfire 

According to a report by media outlet 观察者, a Chinese citizen in Ukraine was trying to leave the country by themselves when they were caught up in gunfire. 

Few details are given about the case, only that the injuries sustained by the individual are not life threatening, and that they are now in a stable condition. Where exactly in Ukraine the incident took place and who fired the gunshot are left to speculation.

Chinese Evacuation

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is well under way, with many military and civilian casualities reported. China’s evacuation of its citizens from the country is also under way. 

With Ukraine’s airspace closed, many evacuees are headed for neighboring countries such as Moldova, Poland and Slovakia. 


[Cover image via Unsplash]

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