日本基督教団 The United Church of Christ in Japan

【December 2022 No.411】Support for Evacuees from Ukraine — We will Accompany Them(5)


They have arrived in Japan in the midst of hardship and at great risk,
and we will work hard to respond to their needs.

by Yokoyama Yuria, executive director
The National Council of YMCAs of Japan
Partnership Project/Humanitarian Aid
 Member, Mitaka Church, Nishi-Tokyo District

The Beginning of Support

On Feb. 24, 2022, Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. Soon after that, the National Council of YMCAs of Japan received a request from a Ukrainian resident who wanted to invite her mother, Tetiana Lopatenko,  to come to Japan. This was the beginning of our activities to support Ukrainian evacuees, in cooperation with YMCA Europe.

Tetiana traveled 990 km from Kremenchuk, 300 km southeast of Kyiv in central Ukraine, to the Republic of Poland, avoiding warfare. Then after traveling 600 km within Poland, she took a plane to Japan. Following a harrowing journey of two weeks, with the horror and sadness of seeing her country turning into ruins and leaving behind everything she had worked for, she saw her daughter's family and their newborn child. She was the first Ukrainian evacuee we supported.

We started sending out a message that said, “We will support you,” and soon I received an email in the Ukrainian language. Translated, it read, “My neighborhood is being bombed. I heard you can help us.” Once I read it, I could not sleep. I could not get that email out of my head, so I finally replied to it, with trepidation.

The sender of the e-mail was a family of five who lived in Donetsk, an industrial city located 100 km north of Mariupol in Southeast Ukraine. With their then six-month-old infant, they jumped on a train while the town was being bombed and fled to Poland. The father had intended to return to Ukraine but changed his mind and decided to come to Japan with his family. They are staying with relatives in Hiroshima now, but the grandparents are still in Ukraine, and they have mixed feelings. My own actions led me to get involved with this family, which caused me to become determined to accompany evacuees from Ukraine.

What we Learned from Supporting in Japan

By June 13, we had been involved in 54 cases and 123 evacuations. The number of people we are assisting exceeds 200. This requires acquisition of passports and visas, immigration procedures at the airport, location of places to live, education, employment assistance, and so on. Since adult males are effectively banned from leaving Ukraine, the majority of evacuees are mothers and children, and the accompaniment skills originally developed by YMCA Japan are put to good use in dealing with their concerns about childcare, education, and general day-to-day living. The YMCA Japan’s activities are based on its global perspective and its experience in working with foreign residents in Japan.

However, we are also learning many new things. For example, 75% of the Ukrainians who lived in Japan and have become underwriters for the evacuees are women. Some came to Japan to work and earn money during the bubble economy, others fled to Japan during 2014 Crimean crisis. A woman told us that she had married a Japanese man but divorced him due to domestic violence. Others lost jobs in hotels and tourism due to COVID-19 and are no longer able to make use of their Russian language skills. We have been given the opportunity to meet people who support the evacuees in the midst of their own difficulties.

The only thing all the evacuees have in common is that they have fled from devastating situations, and each of them has different needs. Some want to return to Ukraine as soon as possible to contribute to the recovery of the country, some want to stay and raise their children in Japan, and others are suffering with illness. We listen to each person’s wishes and connect them with the necessary organizations. Do you know how many documents are necessary to apply for admission to a daycare center? Do you have an illustrated manual with detailed instructions on how to dispose of garbage in your community? It makes me think again about how Japan has been dealing with immigrants.

Also, while providing this kind of support, we hear negative attitudes voiced, like: “What about the issue of refugees?” or “There are even Japanese people who are not eligible for public assistance.” In light of all this, the question is whether Japanese society can really change so that Japan can become a country that accepts immigrants from abroad.

For nearly three years I have been working in a restricted environment for fear of COVID-19 infection and had begun to feel comfortable about it. But when I was pushed out of it and greeted Tetiana at the airport, I knew what I should do. I must go out and offer support to those who are trying hard in spite of their difficulties. In May we started Ukrainian Café Himawari (Sunflower in Japanese), where people can meet and learn, and not only Ukrainian residents but also Ukrainian evacuees are working with it. Accepting evacuees and promoting their self-reliance is our mission now. (Tr.SK)

From: Shinto no Tomo (Believers’ Friend), August 2022





 ロシアがウクライナへの侵攻を始めた2月24日。ほどなくして、日本YMCA同盟に、日本在住のウクライナの方から、母親のテティヤナLOPATENKO TETIANAさんを呼び寄せたいとの相談がありました。これがヨーロッパYMCA同盟と連携したウクライナ避難者支援の活動の始まりでした。


 避難者を受け入れつつ、自立支援を行っていく。それが私たちに与えられた使命だと感じています。 (信徒の友2022年8月号)

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