Govt expedites efforts to protect Japanese nationals in Ukraine

Pool photo / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, left, speaks with Ukrainian Ambassador to Japan Sergiy Korsunsky on Wednesday.

The government is accelerating efforts to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals in Ukraine and support their evacuation as the Russian invasion escalates.

Some of the countries neighboring Ukraine have agreed to accept Japanese nationals fleeing the conflict.

About 120 Japanese nationals have expressed their intention to stay in the country.

“We will do our utmost to protect Japanese nationals in cooperation with [Ukraine’s] neighbors,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday at a House of Councillors Budget Committee meeting.

The Foreign Ministry repeatedly urged Japanese citizens in Ukraine to leave the country by phone and e-mail before Russia launched its full-scale attack.

Of the about 250 Japanese nationals who had been staying in Ukraine, over 100 have left the country. As of the end of February, about 120 were still in Ukraine because of family reasons, among other factors.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Even after the Russian attack started, Japan had been maintaining embassy functions in Kyiv, with Ambassador Kuninori Matsuda and other officials continuing to work in the city where most Japanese citizens in Ukraine were based.

But as the conflict intensified and the other Group of Seven industrialized nations closed their embassies in the capital, Japan joined the exodus, closing its embassy on Wednesday and moving its functions to a temporary liaison office in the western city of Lviv.

Because of severe overcrowding on trains and huge traffic jams on roads leading out of Ukraine, the Japanese Foreign Ministry is now asking its nationals still in the country to also consider remaining in situ while taking appropriate measures to ensure their safety.

Operations of all commercial airlines to and from Ukraine were stopped on Feb. 24 when Russia launched its invasion. As the safety of flights cannot be ensured, the government does not plan to dispatch Self-Defense Force planes or other aircraft to Ukraine.

The government had a chartered plane on standby in Poland before the start of the invasion, having learned from the delayed evacuation of Japanese nationals from Afghanistan last August.

The aircraft is expected to be used to transport Japanese nationals evacuating to Poland via Lviv.

Another temporary liaison office has been set up in Rzeszow in southern Poland to support the evacuation effort in the event that the number of Japanese nationals fleeing Ukraine increases.

In talks with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki over the phone on Wednesday night, Kishida asked for cooperation in “facilitating the smooth entry of Japanese nationals [into Poland.]”

Japan has in principle obtained consensus from the governments of Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, which border Ukraine, to allow Japanese nationals to enter their countries, according to Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, who wore a blue suit and yellow tie — the colors of the Ukrainian national flag — as a sign of solidarity at the upper house Budget Committee meeting Wednesday.

During a meeting with Ukrainian Ambassador to Japan Sergiy Korsunsky on that day, Hayashi requested assistance in ensuring the safety of Japanese nationals in Ukraine.