Japanese artist in eastern Ukraine draws daily life under invasion

Japanese embroidery artist Asako Ishida who lives in Dnipro, Ukraine

Depicting daily life during the Russian invasion is one artist’s way of conveying the situation in Ukraine to the world.

Embroidery artist Asako Ishida has been living in Ukraine for half her life, mainly in the eastern city of Dnipro, which continues to be threatened by Russian forces. Remaining in the city, she has been drawing images of the war and life during the invasion from a civilian perspective.

Through the drawings she posts on her Instagram account, (@akkobysakko), she hopes people will continue to pay attention to the situation in Ukraine and reinforce the desire for peace.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Originally from Sendai, the 52-year-old Ishida studied Russian on her own during her university days. She then went to Kyiv to study in 1996, and married Dnipro native Sergiy Moroz the next year. Since then, they have been living mostly in Dnipro.

She uses pen and colored pencils for the drawings, and uses a gentle touch, as seen in the four images provided.

The illustrated series looks at the life of fictional protagonist Nosaka-san and his faithful feline friend, Suzuki-san.

Ishida had started drawing the series as a way to let her worried parents and friends in Japan know that she was unharmed. She keeps drawing because “it’s meaningful to document the reality of war to leave a record,” she said.

Unforgivable day

Picture by Japanese embroidery artist Asako Ishida who lives in Dnipro, Ukraine

The first piece of the series (Image 1) is about the shelling of Kyiv on the second day of the invasion that began Feb. 24. Nosaka-san and Suzuki-san look out a window at buildings on fire. Ishida superimposed two phrases in Russian: “Never forgive” and “Never forget.”

“I was driven by anger toward the sudden attacks on civilians,” she said. The area shelled was near a place she had once lived with her husband.

Although the area around their home in Dnipro has not sustained major damage, she could not eat or sleep during the first days of the invasion. She became restless whenever air raid sirens went off and would draw the pieces in just 10 minutes or so.

“In the beginning, my heart sank,” she said. “But that’s just what the enemy wants.”

She decided to maintain her usual pace of life and now spends about 30 minutes on each drawing.

“It has become more than a comfortable place,” Ishida said about Ukraine, adding that her fondness for the country has continued to grow deeper since the invasion. “It has become irreplaceable for me, something I always want to be with.”

Picture by Asako Ishida

On March 16, the 21st day of the invasion, she drew the view of a hilly area (Image 2) on the outskirts of Dnipro, about a 30-minute drive from her home. She recalled the time before the invasion, when she once watched this scene at twilight, with the sky and fields extending as far as the eye could see. On the drawing, she added in Ukrainian, “Thanks, Ukraine!”

Giving inspiration

Ishida’s focus is not only on painful events, but also on the resilience of the civilians amid the invasion. She sometimes shows how buses are operating or streets are being cleaned as usual in the city.

“I want people to know about the many Ukrainians who are showing great vitality, despite the tragic situation,” she said.

Picture by Asako Ishida

A drawing of an apron-attired Nosaka-san holding a pot with an oven mitt (Image 3) was inspired by her friend’s story of making borscht to give to the volunteer civilians of the territorial defense forces stationed at checkpoints in Ukraine.

On the outskirts of Kyiv such as in Bucha, the discovery of the bodies of many civilians killed by the Russian military shocked her. She has been unable to draw anything about this as she could not come up with a way to express the horror.

Day after day during the invasion, Ishida confronts the reality that her normal everyday life is being taken away.

“Simply wishing for peace is not enough to maintain peace,” she said.

Picture by Asako Ishida

On April 4, the 40th day of the invasion, Ishida drew Nosaka-san and Suzuki-san looking at a vividly colored world outside a window at the end of a long monochrome corridor (Image 4).

“At a time that can’t be expressed in any other way but by darkness,” she said, “I felt that if I emphasized the brightness, people who see the image can be strongly inspired.”

(Images courtesy of Asako Ishida)