China has started evacuating its citizens from Ukraine, state media said Tuesday, as fears grow for their safety with anger reportedly rising over Beijing's refusal to condemn the Russian invasion.
About 600 Chinese students fled Kyiv and the southern port city of Odessa on Monday, the state-run Global Times newspaper reported, citing the Chinese embassy in the Ukrainian capital.
They traveled by bus to neighboring Moldova under an embassy escort and local police protection, with one evacuee saying the six-hour journey was "safe and smooth."
Another 1,000 Chinese nationals will leave Ukraine on Tuesday bound for Poland and Slovakia, both European Union states, the report added.
China has been walking a diplomatic tightrope on the Ukraine conflict, balancing its oft-repeated insistence on the sanctity of state sovereignty with an unwillingness to call out its close ally Russia.
While countries including the United States, Britain and Japan evacuated diplomats and urged citizens to leave in the weeks leading up to the invasion, China waited until Thursday to announce it would organize charter flights out.
But those flights have not yet materialized and Ukraine has now closed its airspace.
The Chinese ambassador in a video message Sunday denied he had fled Kyiv and said he was "waiting until it is safe" to evacuate.
China has said around 6,000 of its citizens are in Ukraine for work or study.
Its embassy in Kyiv initially urged those planning to leave to fix a Chinese flag to their vehicles, but reversed course after unverified social media claims emerged of rising hostility towards Chinese citizens.
China's foreign ministry said Tuesday it was helping citizens to leave the country but did not offer details.
"The Chinese foreign ministry and the Chinese embassy and consulate in Ukraine have dispatched all resources and made all efforts to provide support and assistance," ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a routine briefing.
Two other EU nations — Hungary and Romania — will also provide assistance to Chinese nationals coming from Ukraine, the embassy said in a Monday statement.
The Polish embassy in China said Monday that Chinese nationals evacuating Ukraine can enter Poland and stay visa-free for up to 15 days.