Post-WWII tragedy similar to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is reminiscent of the detention of Japanese people in Siberia by the former Soviet Union after World War II. For Japan, which experienced that tragedy, the current situation in Ukraine is not someone else’s problem.

On Aug. 9, 1945, the Soviet Union invaded Manchuria — currently northeastern China — and other areas in violation of the Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact. On Aug. 23, an order was issued for the transfer of former Japanese soldiers and others to the Soviet Union and Mongolia.

About 575,000 people were detained in camps in Siberia and elsewhere and subjected to forced labor, despite its ban under international law. Some people were detained for as long as 11 years, and about 55,000 are believed to have lost their lives.

About 200 people have died in what is now Ukraine.

On Tuesday, a memorial gathering for the victims will be held at the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery for the war dead in Tokyo. We pray again for the repose of the souls of the victims.

The tragedy of the detentions continues to this day. The government has been checking documents provided by Russia and other countries against Japanese documents to identify people who died in detention, but the identities of about 15,000 people remain unknown.

The remains of more than 30,000 people are still there. An error came to light in the Japanese government’s remains collection project in 2019, in which it mistakenly brought back the remains of people who were not Japanese.

The provision of documents from Russia and the project to collect remains have been suspended, for reasons including the novel coronavirus pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. There is no prospect of their resumption.

Bereaved families must be feeling disheartened, having longed for news of relatives who died a tragic death in another country.

The detentions also cast a shadow over the lives of those who returned to Japan. Many people are said to have been suspected of being tainted by communism, and to have been monitored by the authorities or had difficulty finding jobs. The scars have not disappeared, even 77 years after the war.

Isn’t Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a replay of this tragedy? Ukraine claims that more than 1 million residents have been forcibly taken from areas under Russian military control.

Moscow says those residents voluntarily evacuated to Russia, but this assertion is obviously unconvincing, given the Russian military’s repeated massacres and violence in areas it controls, spreading fear among the people.

As long as Russian troops remain in Ukraine, residents will continue to be threatened by heinous acts that disregard international law and human rights. The longer the invasion lasts, the deeper the wounds will be and the longer they will remain.

All blame lies with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who ordered the invasion. The international community must continue to urge Putin to withdraw the military immediately.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 21, 2022)