Taiwanese Support for Ukraine: Humanitarian Aid, Economic Sanctions, and Volunteer Soldiers

Taiwanese Support for Ukraine: Humanitarian Aid, Economic Sanctions, and Volunteer Soldiers

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Taiwanese Support for Ukraine: Humanitarian Aid, Economic Sanctions, and Volunteer Soldiers

Taiwan is a frontline democracy facing the specter of war and mounting concerns about its authoritarian neighbor’s growing military capabilities and intent. The island democracy stands at the heart of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) expansive and irredentist claims, and has been forced to contend with increasingly bellicose behavior from Beijing. Given these concerns, it is perhaps no surprise that the plight of Ukrainians suffering from Russia’s February 2022 re-invasion of its territory has strongly resonated with the Taiwan public. The popular slogan “Ukraine today, Taiwan tomorrow” (今日烏克蘭,明日台灣) was repeated in media reports on a near-daily basis during the early months after the war broke out, highlighting the heightened sense of urgency within the Taiwan psyche. In response, the Taiwan government has demonstrated sizeable—yet relatively underappreciated—support for Ukraine, both through direct and indirect financial and humanitarian means. As the international community reckons with Ukraine’s reconstruction and recovery, this article aims to provide a survey of Taipei’s efforts thus far in providing support to Ukraine since the war began, while also establishing a baseline for future discussions.  

The Ukraine War: Bridging the Indo-Pacific and Europe

To be clear, Russia’s re-invasion of Ukraine represents a significant escalation of military aggression that has fundamentally changed the global geopolitical landscape. Countries in the Indo-Pacific and Europe—two geographically distant theatres separated on one end by two massive authoritarian powers and the Americas on the other—are becoming more politically aligned, largely due to the outbreak of a brutal land war in the heartland of Europe, something that was previously viewed as inconceivable in the post-World War II era. Indeed, Moscow’s act of aggression has forced countries and people across the Indo-Pacific to confront the harsh reality that they are also not immune to the menace of authoritarian military aggression. 

As a result, several Indo-Pacific countries—which lie in the shadow of an even larger, more powerful, authoritarian neighbor with similar historical claims and territorial disputes—are increasingly becoming aligned in their threat perceptions. Asian democracies, particularly Japan, have taken seriously the implications of the war in Ukraine for regional security in the Indo-Pacific. Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio has taken the lead by visiting Ukraine in March 2023—the first and only Asian head of state to do so thus far in the war—and has publicly vowed to push back against global authoritarian aggression. Notably, he explicitly linked the two regions, stating: “Ukraine might be East Asia tomorrow […] We must show there are consequences to the attack.”

Humanitarian Aid

The most concrete demonstration of Taiwan’s support for Ukraine has come in the form of its commitments of humanitarian aid and refugee support. Since the war’s outset, the Taiwanese government and civil society organizations have committed more than USD $113.6 million in financial support, along with providing more than 700 metric tons of humanitarian supplies to Ukraine relief efforts. These aid packages have included: humanitarian aid, in-kind humanitarian aid, refugee support, support for civil society groups, power stations, food assistance, and reconstruction aid, among others. [1] 

However, despite Beijing’s “no limits” partnership with Moscow, Kyiv has been hesitant in receiving direct financial and humanitarian support from Taiwan, evidently due to the PRC’s claims over Taiwan and the lack of official relations between Taipei and Kyiv. Consequently, Taiwan has had to route its aid and support to Ukraine either through city governments, churches, or regional NGOs; or else neighboring countries such as Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, Moldova, Latvia, and Estonia, among others. [2]

Despite these limitations, Taiwan is still in the top five Indo-Pacific countries in terms of bilateral aid sent to Ukraine, trailing only Japan, Australia, and South Korea, while leading New Zealand. In the East and Southeast Asia regions, Taiwan is among the leading countries, coming in as the third-largest donor of humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Very little aid to Ukraine has come from nations in the latter region, except for Thailand, Singapore, and Timor-Leste. On an international scale, Taiwan is also among the top 25 providers of humanitarian support to Ukraine in the world, with contributions similar to Central and Eastern European countries such as Hungary.

Economic Sanctions

In addition to providing humanitarian support to Ukraine, Taipei has also taken steps to join the international community in imposing sanctions on Russia. In February 2022, immediately after the onset of the invasion, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced that Taiwan would join the United States and its allies in their economic sanctions against Russia. According to an April 2022 statement from the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA, 經濟部), Taiwan imposed an embargo on the sale of 57 strategic high-tech commodities to Russia. These included semiconductor chips, computer information, and aerospace products, all of which took a relatively significant toll on Taiwan’s technology industry. 

Before the ban, Taiwan was exporting USD $1.3 billion worth of products to Russia. Total bilateral trade between Russia and Taiwan dropped 8.796 percent from 2021 to 2022, in large part due to these stricter regulations on exports to Russia. However, bilateral trade between the countries only accounts for 0.76 percent of Taiwan’s total trade. In January 2023, MOEA announced an expansion of sanctions against Russia, adding 52 items to the new export restriction list, aligning Taiwan with European Union and US regulations on exports. These new items include nuclear energy substances and machine tools. 


Image: A photograph of Tseng Sheng-kuang, a volunteer soldier from Taiwan killed in fighting in the war in Ukraine. (Image source: Radio Free Asia)

Volunteer Soldiers

While humanitarian aid and economic sanctions stand as the most visible demonstration of the island’s overall support for Ukraine, the clearest manifestation of the Taiwanese people’s support for Ukraine may be the group of volunteer soldiers that has traveled over 6,200 miles away to fight on the battlefield in an Eastern European country. 

Since Ukrainian President Zelenskyy put out a call for international volunteer soldiers in February 2022, more than 20,000 volunteers from 52 countries have reportedly responded. An overwhelming majority were reported to have returned home before the summer of 2022, with an estimated 1,000 to 3,000 such foreign fighters believed to be currently active in Ukraine, most of whom serve in three battalions of the International Legion. 

While direct military aid from Taiwan is off the table, public reporting suggests that there have been around 10 confirmed volunteer soldiers from the country that responded to Ukraine’s call for help. The age of the volunteer soldiers from Taiwan span from 26 to 51 years old, and the group includes several with prior military training, ranging from one year of basic training to service in Taiwan’s special forces and as part of the Amphibious Reconnaissance and Patrol Unit (ARP, 海軍陸戰隊兩棲偵搜大隊 ). According to estimates from one of the Taiwanese volunteer soldiers, Li Chen-ling (李成零) and other media sources, there may be between 20 to 30 total volunteers from Taiwan who either have served or are serving as soldiers in the frontline efforts of the Russo-Ukraine War. 

This level of support from Taiwan would actually place it on the higher end among Asian countries. Other Indo-Pacific countries with reported volunteer soldiers in Ukraine include Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and India, among other countries. [3]  

While most volunteer soldiers from Taiwan have returned to the island, one Taiwanese soldier, Tseng Sheng-kuang (曾聖光), died in battle in the eastern city of Lyman in November 2022. He is the first known East Asian soldier to die fighting in Ukraine. Tseng joined after Ukraine broadcasted a request for volunteer soldiers at the outbreak of the war, and was in combat for five months. He is among the roughly 100 volunteer soldiers who have died in battle since the fighting started. Tseng’s family was given a state award by President Zelenskyy for his courage and sacrifice.

Interestingly, in contrast to other countries that have explicitly discouraged their citizens from volunteering in the war and avoided any appearance of sanctioning their activities, the Taiwan government officially recognized Tseng’s death, and he was honored by Taiwanese officials. In reference to a ceremony held in honor of Tseng, Ambassador Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴), Taiwan’s representative to the United States, posted on her social media account: “Honoring a brave soul who gave his life for the cause of freedom. May the hero 曾聖光 Diway rest in peace.” 

Taiwanese Volunteer Soldiers in Russo-Ukraine War




Military Experience

Jonathan Tseng/Tseng Sheng-kuang 



  • International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine/Carpathian Sich Voluntary Battalion 
  • Duration: five months 
  • Status: Killed in the eastern city of Lyman in November 2022 

Former soldier in Taiwan’s Republic of China Armed Forces (ROCAF) 

Jack Yao/Yao Kuan-chun 



  • Georgian Foreign Legion, placed into close combat reconnaissance missions 
  • Joined three days after President Zelenskyy requested international soldier volunteers 
  • Status: Returned to his coffee business 

Finished one-year mandatory Taiwanese military training 

  • Previously involved in the 2014 Sunflower Youth Movement 

Li Cheng-ling 



  • International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine
  • Former Uber Eats delivery driver
  • Duration: April 2022

Former Taiwan Marine and previously joined the French Foreign Legion (Légion Étrangère) 10 years ago 

Tony Lu/Lu Tzu-hao 



  • Originally went to distribute aid, but stayed and became a foreign fighter; Served on defense and supply logistics 
  • Former butcher 
  • Duration: nine months (March to June 2022)   

Former Taiwan Marine


Chuang Yu-wei (莊育瑋


  • International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine  
  • Former Taiwanese tour guide 
  • Duration: eight months (Mar 2022 to Oct 2022) 

Received Taiwan military training in 1990 

Chen Ting-wei (陳廷偉


  • International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine  
  • In April 2022, was assigned to defend a village near Kharkiv 

Trained in an elite amphibious “frogmen” reconnaissance and patrol unit in Taiwan 




  • International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine  
  • Duration: April 2022 
  • Status: Discharged for scheming to harm his comrades and military commander

Taiwan’s Special Forces and French Foreign Legion (Légion Étrangère)

Chen Xi 



  • International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine
  • Duration: September 2022 to May 2023

In 2017, served for the French Foreign Legion (Légion Étrangère) for five years 

Cai (Pseudonym) 


  • International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine
  • Duration: September 2022 to May 2023 
  • Status: Sustained injury to his foot and lost two toes; underwent skin grafting procedures 


I don’t know Mount Lushan” (不識廬山)


  • International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine


* This list is based on public reporting conducted by various media outlets in Taiwan. Whether the individuals have in fact volunteered, and/or whether the accounts of their service are accurate, has not been independently verified. 


Taipei’s rationale in supporting Ukraine was made explicitly clear in May 2023, when Ambassador Hsiao stated at a forum in Washington, DC: “Ukraine’s survival is Taiwan’s survival. Ukraine’s success is Taiwan’s success. Our futures are closely linked.” Taiwan’s top diplomat put a finer point on her earlier statement at another event explaining: “I think pushing back on aggression is the key message that will help to deter any consideration or miscalculation that an invasion can be conducted unpunished, without costs, in a rapid way. We must ensure that anyone contemplating the possibility of an invasion understands that, and that is why Ukraine’s success in defending against aggression is so important also for Taiwan.” The representative’s clear statements help to explain why Taipei has not made too much public fuss about the fact that a large proportion of military supplies have been directed to Ukraine, causing delays in shipments of military arms to Taiwan.

Despite Taiwan’s efforts thus far, international observers argue that Taiwan should do more. Daniel Runde, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), recommended that Taipei more than triple its current commitment every year by pledging an annual aid package to Ukraine of USD $500 million over the next four years, building to a total of USD $2 billion. Echoing the statement of Representative Hsiao, Runde argued that “Taiwan’s survival is directly connected to that of Ukraine.” Further, he contended that “If Russia is perceived as ‘winning’ in Ukraine, meaning that it annexes and holds significant parts of Ukraine with consequences Russia can accept, then China’s temptation to invade Taiwan might grow ever greater.” 

Indeed, Taiwan has the means to do more. According to one forecast, Taiwan’s nominal GDP per capita could surpass Japan’s in 2028. Yet, Japan has contributed more than USD $7 billion to Ukraine. It has also accepted more than 2,000 displaced Ukrainians and helped them with housing and support for jobs and education, and also announced the commitment to deliver 100 military vehicles to Ukraine.

As the war drags on past 16 months, Taiwan should think longer-term about what it can do to contribute to Ukraine. At the same time, it is incumbent on like-minded nations to include Taiwan in ongoing multilateral efforts to ensure that resources are pooled and allocated efficiently and effectively, and that they are tailored to where they are most needed for the Ukrainians. While Taiwan’s inclusion in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development initiative to support Ukraine’s economic resilience is a move in the right direction, more can and should be done to include Taiwan in other multilateral relief efforts. For instance, Taiwan should be a part of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) recently launched Four-Year Country Program for Ukraine to support Ukraine’s agenda for reform, recovery, and reconstruction. It is worth noting that Taiwan has been invited to “observe” and even serve as a “participant” at OECD committee meetings in the past. 

The Taiwan government has played an outsized role relative to the majority of other Indo-Pacific countries in its support for Ukraine, both through direct and indirect channels, and it stands poised to do more. Through its contributions to Ukraine, Taiwan has certainly earned the right to be at the table. The United States and its like-minded partners should think of ways to integrate Taiwan into broader reconstruction and recovery efforts for Ukraine.

The main point: Despite its small size and challenging geopolitical position, Taiwan has played an outsized role in supporting Ukraine’s defense against the Russian invasion. Given Taipei’s strong contributions to international peace and stability, the United States and other partners should seek to more effectively include Taiwan on the global stage.

[1] Author’s dataset, current as of April 2023.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Japan has an estimated 70 persons who applied to join the international legion, South Korea reported nine volunteer soldiers who have joined Ukrainian frontline war efforts, and India reported that more than 500 of its citizens have applied to join the international legion.