The Ukrainian eyeing long-term cooperation with Taiwan

This is the original version of a piece that appeared in today’s Taipei Times.

Even among the diverse gathering at the Liberty Square arch, Glib Ivanov stands out. At 192cm, the 24-year-old Odesa native towers above the crowd, and his floppy mop of hair accentuates this.

With a pair of oversized black spectacles, peach-fuzz goatee, and silver triangles jangling from his earlobes like miniature percussion pieces, he looks somewhere between New Romantic and modern-day mad professor. A snazzy cream jacket, with a plum-flower-shaped badge incorporating the ROC white sun canton, affixed to one of the lapels, only enhances this image. From the buttoned-up jacket’s opening, the embroidered collar and tasselled fasteners of a vyshyvanka – the traditional Ukrainian linen shirt – protrude.

Wrapping up the ensemble is a white cotton scarf adorned with blue anchors, hinting at a sea-based preoccupation, and a cutesy handbag featuring Studio Ghibli mascot Totoro. It’s an appropriately blustery February afternoon when I first meet Ivanov – a doctoral researcher working on floating offshore wind turbines (FOWT) – at an event to mark the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Just like his appearance, his opinions mark him out.

“I think everyone should tell the truth: Many Russian-speaking Ukrainians, including some of my family, initially hoped the invasion would just replace Zelenskyy, who was not then popular,” he says. “But once we realized the Russians were just here to kill people, it changed.”

Today, Ivanov is here to show solidarity with his compatriots. He is also keen to emphasize the opportunities for cooperation between Taiwan and Ukraine through his work at National Taiwan University (NTU).

Detecting my accent, Ivanov praises the UK’s achievements in renewables. “The government invested more than £30 million in floating wind,” he says, referring to the Kincardine FOWT farm off the coast of Aberdeen in Scotland. “The technology is from an American company – Principle Power – but they couldn’t get funding because no one cares about green energy in the US!”

Instead, he says, the company looked abroad. In addition to the UK, there is also a farm in Portugal, where a subsidiary of the company operates. Other European countries have also expressed interest.

Citing limited space for onshore turbines and concerns over their proximity to residential areas, Ivanov says FOWT technology is ideal for Taiwan. Protests such as those seen in 2013 against the construction of a wind farm at Yuanli (苑裡) in Miaoli County by German company InfraVest GmbH are legitimate, Ivanov believes. “No one really knows how far the turbines could fly if a typhoon breaks them, so it really might not be that safe.”


While, regular offshore projects are ongoing, Ivanov says the construction of “Eiffel Tower”-sized foundations required for fixed turbines in deeper waters is prohibitively expensive, making FOWT a great alternative. While the immediate goal is to bring benefit to Taiwan, Ivanov sees this a “side project” to broader, long-term cooperation between Ukraine and Taiwan.

“Together, they could outperform the UK,” he says. “If you have some time, I can explain.”

A few weeks later, I visit Ivanov at the Department of Engineering Science and Ocean Engineering at the eastern end of the NTU campus. While not quite the “rat-infested building” Ivanov had jokingly described, it’s not glamorous. A row of concrete blocks is topped by semi-domed roofs, that resemble mini aircraft hangars. The facade is segmented by panels of grubby yellow tiling.

Waiting at the main entrance, Ivanov is again snappily dressed, this time in a more formal blue blazer. “High-tech, smart performance fabric,” he says. “Expensive, but a necessity for business trips in this climate – keeps the cool in and wrinkles out. I’ve yet to put it to the test, though.”

Upon entering, we’re greeted by a model of his floating turbine design. He points out the various components and functions, before guiding me past workshops and a study room with a sign reading “The Chamber” in gothic lettering. Upstairs, in the comfortably furnished Energy Research Center, Ivanov pours tea from a Japanese cast-iron pot into a glass held in a podstakannik. An everyday item in Ukraine, this ornate, nickel utensil comes with handles so drinks can be enjoyed piping hot.

Ivanov outlines his team’s plans for a joint industry project managed by the government-owned Ship and Ocean Industries R&D Center (SOIC), with support from NTU, National Taiwan Ocean University and CSBC Corporation, owner of the world’s largest dry dock in Kaohsiung. The aim is to secure US$25 million in investment from companies who will then have the “preferential right” to develop FOWT farms.

“But how is this is connected with Ukraine?” he asks rhetorically. “Well, before the war, there were twice as many wind turbines in Ukraine as Taiwan. The wind sector was pretty developed.”

Unfortunately, says Ivanov, a third of these were in Crimea and suspended operations after the 2014 occupation of the region. With Russia under sanctions and unwilling to pay for upkeep, hundreds of turbines fell into disrepair.

Fears of Russian naval aggression had made FOWT unappealing, but things changed with the sinking of the Moskva, the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s flagship in April 2022. This was the vessel that had demanded the surrender of Ukrainian border guards on Snake Island on the first day of the war, only to be met with the infamous riposte “Russian warship, go fuck yourself.”

Ivanov chuckles gleefully as he utters the invective. “So now, the fear is gone,” he says. “And the Ukrainian government has committed to renewable energy [including FOWT] after the war.”


With this in mind, Ivanov hopes to pair Taiwanese engineering and FOWT know-how with Ukrainian fabrication skills. He unfurls a poster to illustrate possible pathways to this. Highlighting a dearth of qualified welders in Taiwan, Ivanov believes Ukrainian expertise, which China has historically tapped, can be leveraged here. Among the proposals is the establishment of a Ukrainian-led welding school in Taichung to train local talent.

On the other side of this joint venture, would be investment in FOWT in the Black Sea, using the expertise gained on projects in Taiwan. With support for Taiwan burgeoning in Central and Eastern Europe, the incentives might extend beyond economic rewards. While Ivanov’s hopes for recognition of Taiwan by Kyiv might be fanciful, professional, academic, and civil society exchanges could benefit. He uses his own case as an example. “As a PhD student, I’m exempt from conscription,” he says. “But because Ukraine doesn’t recognize Taiwanese documents, I’m considered to be evading. If we had projects generating huge earnings, it would give a punch to the government to do something!”

Having recently taken up a role at SOIC working on assessment and promotion of joint industry projects, Ivanov hopes to play a part in delivering this wake-up call. And, whatever form cooperation takes, he is not looking for charity. “As a Ukrainian, I don’t want it to be just rich Taiwan helping poor Ukraine. After the war, it should be a partnership of equals.

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