Growing private-sector efforts provide assistance to Ukraine

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ukrainian Vasia Anna prays for peace in her home country in front of Ukrainian wine products in Yokohama on March 15.

Efforts to provide support to Ukraine amid the conflict that has continued since Russia’s invasion have been picking up nationwide.

Activities include various forms of assistance such as monetary donations made after profits from the sales of Ukrainian specialty items and traditional Japanese crafts. One company is using Ukrainian wine to try and help make a difference.

“I hope people drink the wine and gain a little more interest in my home country,” said Ukraine-born Anna Vasia, 37, who is in charge of the wine section of Helms Ltd., a trading firm based in Yokohama.

Wine has long been produced in Ukraine. Helms has been selling Ukrainian wine products since 2020. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, orders via the internet of wine products have increased about 10-fold from alcohol wholesalers, restaurants and individual customers.

There have been messages sent to the firm from those who purchased the products, including one directly stating that the wine was bought “in support of Ukraine.”

Helms began donating portions of its sales of Ukrainian wine products to the embattled country this month. In April, it will organize a charity dinner in Yokohama.

Vasia hails from Sumy, a city in northeastern Ukraine, where she was a professional dancer. She developed an affinity for Japan after several visits here as a performer.

A Japan resident since 2006, her mother and grandmother still remain in Sumy, which has been besieged by the Russian military.

“I hope these activities standing up for peace will further grow [in Japan],” Vasia said.

Kumano Shrine in Tokai, Aichi Prefecture, is using its original goshuin red ink stamp through March 31 in hopes of promoting peace in Ukraine. Each temple and shrine in Japan have original stamps called goshuin, and visitors can obtain the stamp as a proof of visits there for a nominal fee called “hatsuhoryo.”

The Kumano Shrine goshuin features multiple blue heart-shaped stamps that are lined to form a circle, and kanji character “wa,” meaning peace, harmony and unity, inside the circle. In the lower part of the paper appears the message, “Bring peace to Ukraine and the world!”

The shrine said it plans to donate all the hatsuhoryo (¥500 each) funds to Ukraine, delivering the assistance to the country’s embassy in Japan. It has already sold the goshuin to about 1,900 visitors between March 1 and 21.

“I hope people do not consider the invasion taking place at this time to be happening some far-away country, but instead take this as an opportunity to think about peace,” said Hitomi Banno, 34, one of the shrine’s senior priests.

In Manno, Kagawa Prefecture, Kamikougei Yamada, which produces the Marugame uchiwa fan, a novelty item well-known in the prefecture, on March 7 kicked off sales of uchiwa featuring a Ukrainian national flag design for ¥2,500 each.

The firm prepared 400 pieces of the uchiwa, whose sales will go to the Ukrainian Embassy in Japan, but the items almost instantly sold out.

“I hope [the uchiwa] conjures up thoughts of Ukraine,” said Tokisato Yamada, 50, president of the firm. He plans to get involved in other activities in support of Ukraine.