Displaced Ukrainians receive warm welcome in Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
From left: Yasuhito Shigeyama, Victoriia Romashova, Neri Shigeyama and Andreii Baglai speak to the press at Osaka International Airport on Tuesday.

The 20 displaced Ukrainians who arrived in Tokyo on a government plane on Tuesday joined many others who have made their way to Japan to escape Russia’s military invasion.

The public and private sector entities have extended a helping hand, but much more assistance is required, including language support and psychological care.

When Victoriia Romashova and her son Andreii Baglai arrived at Osaka International Airport on Tuesday evening, Romashova’s mother, Neri Shigeyama, was there to greet them, with the family members embracing each other and shedding tears.

Shigeyama, 59, hails from Kyiv and now lives in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, with her husband Yasuhito Shigeyama, 75.

Romashova, 37, and her son, 13, looked tired after their long journey from Kyiv where they had been living.

“I’m so happy to see my daughter and grandson. I’d like to thank the Japanese people who have supported my family,” Neri Shigeyama said.

The Suita municipal government has offered Romashova and her son free housing, just as it would do for evacuees in the event of a disaster. Local companies will help out with food and daily necessities for the time being.

A 34-year-old displaced Ukrainian from Kyiv has secured accommodation in a farmhouse in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, through a Japanese acquaintance she met through kendo.

“I’ve been worried about my parents and the friends I left behind in Ukraine,” she said, adding that she plans to study Japanese and look for work.

People displaced by the conflict had been arriving in Japan before the government plane carrying 20 Ukrainians landed on Tuesday.

As of Sunday, 404 displaced Ukrainians had fled to Japan. The central government has prepared a variety of assistance and municipalities have been securing public housing and other accommodation facilities.

The Tokyo metropolitan government’s helpline for Ukrainians had received 371 consultations as of Tuesday, the largest number of which were about housing-related issues, with 166.

Most of the consultations came from Ukrainians living in Japan, who want to help families or friends from Ukraine travel to Japan, as well as acquaintances of such Ukrainian residents. The helpline had also received 84 consultations from people who offered to host displaced Ukrainians in vacant rooms in their homes.

Companies have also stepped forward to help.

SoftBank Corp. offered the Ukrainians who arrived on the government plane on Tuesday rental smartphones with unlimited data and voice calls free of charge.

As Japan is expected to accept more displaced Ukrainians in the future, concern has been raised regarding the shortage of interpreters.

“Almost no lectures on Ukrainian language are offered at Japanese universities,” said Kobe Gakuin University professor Yoshihiko Okabe.

The Immigration Services Agency started recruiting Ukrainian interpreters on March 17, but only five people had contacted the agency by Tuesday.

On March 25, the National Police Agency instructed police forces across the country to secure Ukrainian interpreters.

The best candidates for interpreters are likely to be found among the 1,900 Ukrainians based in Japan.

“Many of them have jobs, so there may be competition to secure their services,” Okabe said. “Some ingenuity will be required, such as remote interpretation.”

Mental care is also important.

According to Yoshiteru Horie, the president of the Association for Aid and Relief Japan, people who are suddenly displaced from their communities can suffer emotional trauma and often complain of poor health. Children in particular may have flashbacks and suddenly start crying or become afraid when they hear loud noises.

Most of the people leaving Ukraine are women and children because adult men were required to stay in Ukraine to fight for the country.

“It can be a huge mental burden when families are separated,” Horie said. “It is necessary to provide support such as counseling services and plan events to help Ukrainians interact with locals so that they don’t become isolated.”