Wang Jixian didn’t set out to become the Chinese voice of resistance in Ukraine. The 36-year-old resident of Odesa, a key target in Russia’s invasion of the country, simply wanted to show his parents he was fine.
“I’m coming back from buying groceries,” he said in a video posted to Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, on February 24, the first day of the invasion. Wang, a programmer originally from Beijing, described buying meat and fruit in the video, remarking that some food stores were still open.
But his mood darkened as the days passed and the Russian assault escalated. When he logged onto Douyin, he said he would see Chinese videos praising Russian troops or supporting the invasion.
“I was very angry, then I thought I would record videos for them, and I’ll tell them what the real battlefield is,” he told CNN.
His daily videos, posted across various platforms including YouTube and the Chinese messaging app WeChat, quickly gained traction as a rare voice offering Chinese audiences a glimpse into war-torn Ukraine – a stark contrast from Chinese state media, which has promoted Russian disinformation such as unfounded claims Ukrainian soldiers are using “Nazi” tactics.
In one widely-watched video, Wang held up his Chinese passport and said, “These Ukrainian guards are not Nazis, they are IT programmers, common people, barbers – these are the people.”
But in doing so, he had waded into the middle of a messy controversy, with China facing international pressure as it refuses to condemn Russia’s invasion, and an outpouring of pro-Russia sentiment on China’s highly restricted and censored social media – something Wang is hoping to change.
Backlash of critics
Wang had studied art in college, and enjoyed dance, music and painting – so when he moved to Odesa four years ago for work, the city’s “artistic atmosphere” immediately appealed to him. One video on his Douyin account last year showed a man playing piano in a colorful room filled with books and paintings.
His videos look very different now. Several are filmed late at night, with the sound of explosions and air raid sirens in the background. Other clips show snapshots of daily life – quiet streets, Ukrainian flags hung outside buildings and painted onto walls.