Ukraine-Raised Japanese Journalist Risks Life with First-Hand Accounts from Battlefields

Courtesy of Asami Terajima
Asami Terajima, right, speaks with a Ukrainian soldier in a village near Bakhmut in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine in May 2023.

RZESZOW, Poland — In the heat of the battlefield in the Russian-controlled Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, the young journalist files a story about the withdrawal from the city of Avdiivka that had been heavily shelled by Russia.

Who is this journalist risking life and limb to report from the front lines? Asami Terajima may not seem like the typical war reporter, but the 23-year-old Japanese feels it her mission to give first-hand accounts of the war as a correspondent for the “The Kyiv Independent,” an English-language news website.

“Ukraine has suffered many casualties and the Ukrainian military has made [strategic] mistakes,” Terajima said in an online interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun. “Including such facts, I want to convey the psyche of soldiers fighting to defend their country.”

It was in late February and Terajima had been embedded for two weeks with Ukrainian forces in Avdiivka. As the Ukrainians finally could hold out no longer and were forced to pull out, the field commander issued a harsh order: “Leave [the wounded] behind.”

Terajima has ventured to the war zones and surrounding areas for up to a week at a time every month starting in February 2023, about a year after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.

A native of Osaka Prefecture, Terajima moved to Ukraine at age 10 due to her father’s job. With the exception of year spent studying in the United States, she has been living in Kyiv. She speaks both Ukrainian and Russian, and began writing for The Kyiv Independent in 2021 after a stint with an English-language newspaper.

She went to the city of Bucha, north of Kyiv, which Russia had ruthlessly occupied early in the invasion and where she wrote stories from eyewitness accounts of the Russian brutality. That reassured her that war reporting was the job for her, and she began going to battlefields.

Despite the inherent danger, “There are things you will never know unless you go [to the place,” she said,

A counteroffensive launched by the Ukrainian military to drive the Russians from occupied lands has so far failed. Speaking with soldiers who are facing the fear and anxiety of losing the war, she gets them to open up about their feelings by seeming more like a friend. Not everyone has been pleased. She said the Ukrainian military filed a complaint about a story that did not paint it in a good light.

Using her vacation days, she visited Japan in August last year, only to find there was little news about Ukraine. She hopes to raise awareness while appealing for support for her adopted homeland.

“Every day, many Ukrainians are being killed,” she said. “I hope [people in Japan] will not forget about Ukraine.”