Lots of cities have Chinatowns — areas where expat Chinese people live and do business in close proximity. And with good reason. Chinese account for nearly 20 percent of the world’s population.

But there’s no Chinatown in Ukraine. Instead, the estimated 30,000 Chinese people are scattered.

That’s a good thing, says Demian Dyao, the trustee of the Chinese diaspora in Ukraine Association, a nongovernmental organizaiton established in 2016 with nearly 400 active members.

“One of the aims of our organization is to help Chinese people to get to know Ukrainian laws, culture, customs, and language, and be fully integrated into Ukrainian society,” Dyao says. “The phenomenon of Chinatowns is unacceptable and should be left in the past.”


Dyao believes the number of Chinese immigrants to Ukraine will likely grow as the country’s calm pace and beautiful nature attract. “Ukraine offers good conditions for living, studying, working and investment,” he says.

Clean air

The first Chinese immigrants started coming to Ukraine in Soviet times during the 1970s, at the time of the Cultural Revolution — a brutal purge of Chinese society by Communist Party chief Mao Zedong. Mao aimed to sweep away the last remaining traditional elements of Chinese society and impose Maoism as the country’s dominant ideology, according to historians. The purge sent at least 50 million Chinese abroad as emigrants — 75 percent of them going to live in Southeast Asia.

But Dyao, 30, says many from China came here on numerous cultural and student exchange programs during Soviet times. He came from Beijing to Ukraine with his parents when he was an 8-year-old boy.

“Even though air in Ukraine is not as clean as in Western Europe, it cannot be compared to any big Chinese city,” he says. “I like it that the people here are friendly and helpful.”

Most Chinese expatriates live in Kyiv, Odesa and Kharkiv.

“They are mostly Chinese students, businessmen or employees of Chinese companies who come to Ukraine, so it’s natural that they mostly live in big cities,” says Dyao. Some Chinese trade in local markets, some practice traditional Chinese medicine and others teach Chinese to Ukrainians.


Dyao says that it is usually Chinese families or young men who come to Ukraine as immigrants, not single Chinese women.

Word of mouth is the main source of information about Ukraine in China, Dyao says, as Ukraine does little to promote itself there.

Unsure future

Peng Tao, 31, found out about Ukraine from his friends. He came to Ukraine from Chongqing in 2004 to study Russian at Kyiv’s Dragomanov National Pedagogical University.

“It was very difficult to get around the city, there was no normal access to the internet then. Kyiv looked to me like a big village then,” says Tao, who comes from a city of 8.2 million people.

While a university student, he found a job as a manager in Kyiv at Sto Express, a Shanghai-based postal service, and decided to stay.

But Tao is still unsure about staying. “Living here I feel lack of confidence in the future. One cannot be sure that an investment will be returned, or a bank will not seize the money,” he says.


At the same time, Tao likes Ukraine’s picturesque landscapes and not having to work too hard to survive. “In China they work without holidays because there is too much competition.”

Tao won’t say what he misses about China, but Dyao, who regularly visits his grandparents in China, says Kyiv lacks good Chinese food.

Language barrier

Few Chinese go on to become Ukrainian citizens. Language is one barrier.

“Ukrainian or Russian, their pronunciation and word endings, do not come easily to Chinese speakers, and this is the biggest obstacle to integration,” Dyao says.

To ease integration for newcomers, the Chinese Diaspora in Ukraine Association offers Ukrainian language lessons and introductions to local customs.

“Often what is OK in China is unacceptable here. For example, the Chinese like to speak loudly, which is perhaps irritating to others,” Dyao says.

Dyao speaks flawless Russian and Ukrainian. After more than 20 years in the country, he even feels a bit Ukrainian.

“When I’m in Ukraine,  I feel I am Chinese, but when I go to China I feel I’m more Ukrainian than Chinese,” he says.

Chinese citizen Peng Tao (R) gestures as he recalls the difficulties he had finding his way around Kyiv upon arrival in 2004. He senses a lack of confidence among Ukrainians about their future and is still unsure about whether he will stay in the country. (Volodymyr Petrov)
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