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Ukrainian woman in Japan calls for global attention on crisis in homeland

  • March 1, 2022
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

OSAKA — A Ukrainian woman living in western Japan is calling on people in Japan and the rest of the world to face up to the situation in her home country following Russia’s invasion, while worrying about the future of her family back home.


Balynska Olga, 38, a resident of Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, says her 33-year-old brother evacuated from Kyiv to a western Ukraine town by car along with his wife and two children after Russian units began rolling across the border.


Wide areas of Ukraine have been hit by Russian missile attacks and ground assaults, and her brother Balynskiy Sergiy told her anxiously, “There’s no knowing what Russia will do. We won’t be safe no matter where we are.”


Olga hails from Volyn Oblast in northwestern Ukraine. She came to Japan in 2009 and studied Japan’s comedy culture at the University of Tokyo and Osaka University graduate school. She married a man from Georgia who was studying in Japan. She currently works as a translator at a patent office in Osaka’s Kita Ward, while raising a 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter with her 37-year-old husband.


Her distrust of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration turned into anger after it claimed that Ukraine is part of Russia, on top of the latter’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. She warns that the same thing could happen to Japan, which has a territorial dispute with Russia over a group of four islands off Hokkaido. “I want all people in the world to fully face up to and think about this situation (in Ukraine).”


Russia’s latest military operation has cast a shadow over local authorities’ projects in Hyogo Prefecture, including an internship program inviting university students from Ukraine.


In Kobe, the municipal government was forced to suspend a plan to build a system for securing talented IT personnel from Ukraine. The city has focused on Ukraine, dubbed the “Silicon Valley of eastern Europe,” as a supplier of IT engineers who are highly coveted across the globe.


To this end, the Kobe Municipal Government has forged relations with IT companies and polytechnic colleges in Ukraine by way of the Embassy of Ukraine in Japan. Under the city’s internship program, Ukrainian university students would work for companies in Kobe for one to two weeks.


Leo Luchuk, 37, who hails from Lviv in western Ukraine and works as a Kobe Municipal Government employee in charge of the program, had planned to visit Kyiv with his colleagues in March to prepare for the program, but had to give up on the plan.


Luchuk started studying Japanese after reading a novel by Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata in his college days. After working at the Embassy of Japan in Ukraine, he came to Japan in 2015 and has been serving as an international external affairs officer at the Kobe Municipal Government since 2018. According to Luchuk, Kyiv Polytechnic Institute and other science universities in Ukraine that have spawned IT engineers offer Japanese language courses, and there are many young Ukrainians who feel an affinity with Japan through its manga and animation works.


He has been engaged in online negotiations with universities and business personnel to launch a system allowing for Ukrainian youths who studied IT to get jobs in Kobe and supplement technology at companies in both countries. Luchuk says he’d been able to have talks normally until recently even after the situation surrounding Ukraine deteriorated. However, following Russia’s invasion, emails he sent simultaneously to concerned parties wishing for their safety have mostly been left unanswered.


“I want everyone to be safe. I hope that this conflict will come to an end at an early date, and that we’ll be able to resume the project,” he said.


(Japanese original by Atsuko Nakata and Shinya Yamamoto, Kobe Bureau)

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