Award-Winning Interview Drew Candid Comments From Zelenskyy; Meeting Took Place on Moving Train in Ukraine Just Before G7 Summit

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Koya Ozeki, chief of the The Yomiuri Shimbun’s General Bureau of Europe, left, interviews Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on a moving presidential train in March 2023. (Parts of this photo have been intentionally blurred).

Koya Ozeki’s interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is significant for delving into the wartime leader’s thinking and logic in the face of Russian aggression, and for disseminating those thoughts in Japan and to the rest of the world.

Ozeki, the head of The Yomiuri Shimbun’s General Bureau of Europe, won the 2023 Vaughn-Uyeda Memorial International Journalistic Prize on Wednesday. His interview of Zelenskyy took place in March 2023, after a year of steadily laying the groundwork.

It was the first time the president had given an interview to a Japanese newspaper or news agency since Russia’s aggression began in February 2022.

The timing of the interview — just prior to the Group of Seven summit meeting in Hiroshima — also drew a great deal of attention, as did its unusual setting on a moving presidential train.

Their direct face-to-face talk in English, in a small compartment with no interpreter, brought forth candid, in-depth remarks. Zelenskyy emphasized that Russia’s aggression threatens the order of the entire international community.

“The world is paying only money and weapons,” the Ukrainian president said. “But it doesn’t pay for the lives of our people.”

He also answered basic questions such as why the war has continued for this long and why a ceasefire cannot be called now.

Such questions and answers do not come up in interviews with Western journalists, as they see no doubt about fighting back against aggression. That is why it is significant that a member of the Japanese media asked these questions and elicited answers from Zelenskyy.

Ozeki’s exclusive interviews with then Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas of the former Soviet Baltic republics backed up Zelenskyy’s assertions.

The leaders of countries with a history of being invaded by Russia spoke of this threat. Ozeki drew from them the common view that peace requires preparation in peacetime and that it is too late for peace to prevail once a crisis has occurred. Their comments also served as a wake-up call for Japan amid its surrounding environment.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is being defined as a historical turning point that has overturned the international order of the post-Cold War era.

It is the responsibility of the international press to cover the course of this blatant war of aggression from different perspectives. This prize reaffirms that.