Ukrainian woman who fled to Japan determined not to ‘just be taken care of’

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Nataliia Ievtushuk, center, uses a translation app on her smartphone to talk to a coworker in the Suginami Ward Office on Oct. 21.

Determined to help people and “not just be taken care of,” a Ukrainian woman living in Japan has taken a job at the Communication and Culture Shop in the Suginami Ward Office.

Nataliia Ievtushuk, 51, and her son Victor, 26, evacuated to Japan in April from Liuboml in western Ukraine near the Polish border. They came to Suginami Ward in Tokyo, the home of her eldest son Igor, 31.

Victor and Igor became interested in Japanese culture through the works of Studio Ghibli Inc. and other popular anime, and studied Japanese at a university in Kyiv. However, Nataliia could not speak Japanese at all when she arrived.

She has been studying hard, taking Japanese class twice a week since May with the help of the Suginami Association for Cultural Exchange.

Nataliia said, “Japanese people are very kind, and I’m content living here,” but she has often been depressed by the devastating news from her home country. She started looking for a job because she “wanted to help people, not just be taken care of.” Eventually she got an offer from the association to work in the shop at the ward office.

In Ukraine, Nataliia ran four general stores selling toys and clothes, and she is skilled at serving customers and displaying merchandise. At the Suginami shop, she opens cardboard boxes containing products one after another and quickly puts them on the shelves.

Nataliia can now understand simple Japanese and uses a translation app on her smartphone to communicate with coworkers. “I’m looking forward to communicating with many people,” she said. Fellow employee Sachiko Igarashi said, “She’s a very reliable person, and interacts with the customers with a smile.”

According to son Victor, “My mother smiles more since she started working.”

Nataliia plans to sell her home-made borscht at the Suginami Festa event scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. “I want to tell Japanese people that Ukraine is a peace-loving country,” she said.