Boy who fled from Ukraine to Kumamoto worries about his mother

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yusei Tsuji looks at a photo in Kumamoto City on Tuesday, taken when he and his mother Valeria parted at an airport in Ukraine.

KUMAMOTO — A 12-year-old boy who traveled from Ukraine to Kumamoto City just before the Russian invasion worries every day about the safety of his mother, who remains in the war-torn country.

With the Russian military’s attacks intensifying day by day, some of the people Yusei Tsuji knows are taking up arms to fight. Yusei said he strongly hopes that the war will stop soon.

When Yusei wrote “Good night” on the Line messenger app, his Ukrainian mother Valeria replied, “Good morning.” As he looked at these casual texts on Tuesday, Yusei’s expression clouded and he wondered what was going to happen in the future.

Yusei could feel the tension during a video call, as his mother said a Russian plane was flying overhead and the sound of sirens could be heard. Valeria, 44, said that each time the sirens have sounded, she and her relatives have hidden in an underground parking lot.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kumamoto Castle is lit up in the colors of the Ukranian flag in Kumamoto City on March 1.

On Monday, Valeria drove to a safer city in the west.

Yusei was born in Kumamoto and belongs to a family of four that includes his father, a sports instructor named Hidetaka; his mother Valeria; and a 16-year-old brother named Yusuke. When Valeria had to return to Dnipro in Ukraine 6½ years ago to care for her family, the siblings moved there with her. Yusuke later returned to Kumamoto to attend high school, but Yusei stayed in Dnipro and studied at a local elementary school.

However, the family decided to send Yusei to his father, as tensions with Russia were rising.

His mother remained in Dnipro to take care of family. She sent him off with a smile, saying not to worry as he would see her again soon.

“I didn’t think the war would really start,” he said.

Yusei returned to Japan on Feb. 20, only four days before the Russians invaded Ukraine. “He really had a narrow escape,” his father said.

Yusei learned from news reports that Kyiv, which he visited for a Christmas market, and Kharkiv, where many of his relatives and friends lived, were under attack. He doesn’t know whether some of his friends are safe. He heard that the older students at the swimming school he attended have gone off to war.

“It made me feel that war can destroy peace in an instant,” Yusei said.

Hidetaka proposed to the Kumamoto municipal government lighting up Kumamoto Castle — which survived the Kumamoto Earthquake — in Ukrainian colors. Valeria was very pleased after seeing the photo he sent of the castle tower illuminated in blue and yellow for five days from March 1, he said.

Yusei prays for his mother’s safety. “I want her to return to a peaceful life as soon as possible. I miss my mom.”