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Student from Ukraine urges people in Japan to learn more about ongoing regional tensions

Anastasia Kovba, a student from Ukraine, says that she wants people in Japan to know more about the situation in her home country, which has seen ongoing regional tensions, during an interview in the city of Kyoto's Kamigyo Ward on Feb. 18, 2022. (Mainichi/Norikazu Chiba)

KYOTO -- Amid the ongoing tensions between Ukraine and Russia, Ukrainian students in Japan have also been increasingly concerned about the future of their country as well as the safety of family and other loved ones there. The Mainichi Shimbun interviewed a postgraduate student at Kyoto University, who insisted that while people in Japan are under the impression that this crisis, which has placed countries on the brink of war, has emerged all of a sudden, Ukraine has always been under an ongoing state of emergency.

    Anastasia Kovba, 23, is from a village in the suburb of Lviv, an ancient capital located in western Ukraine. She grew interested in Japan through the anime Naruto, which is also popular overseas. She studied the Japanese language on her own alongside her studies in veterinary medicine at a university in Ukraine, and came to Japan in October 2019. She currently lives in the city of Kyoto and conducts research on HIV at Kyoto University's Graduate School of Science.

    Ever since regional tensions surrounding Ukraine have heightened, she has been regularly contacting her family and friends via chat messages and other means, and checking news coverage of overseas media, including the BBC. While her hometown where her parents and grandparents live is in the country's west and far from the border with Russia, she has relatives who go in and out of Russia for work, as well as friends who belong to the Ukrainian military.

    "Of course, my family and friends are all worried about a military invasion. But, that is something that has been going on for a while. Since this is not something that started all of a sudden, the local people may appear calm, but are actually spending their daily lives worried," Kovba said.

    The earlier stages of conflict Kovba is referring to is Russia's annexation of Crimea in southern Ukraine in 2014, and the conflict between pro-Russian militant groups and the Ukrainian military which broke out in the east. A cease-fire deal was signed between the two sides in February 2015 but has not been carried out, and conflict has still been ongoing thereafter.

    "This situation is unknown. The people of Ukraine have been in a state of tension for a long time," she said.

    Russia has shown strong objection to Ukraine's moves to join NATO for national security. The world has been closely watching the state of affairs, and is focusing its attention on the outcome of Russia's negotiations with the United States and other Western countries.

    "Russia is a country that has deep historical ties with Ukraine, but Ukraine is an independent country. It is natural for people of a country to make decisions about the country themselves. People in Japan would also get angry if the U.S. decided things for Japan at its convenience, right?" Kovba said.

    The young woman said that she responded to the interview request as there are limits to what she can do as someone in Japan. She hopes that the current situation will create an opportunity for more people to know about the reality in Ukraine.

    (Japanese original by Norikazu Chiba, Kyoto Bureau)

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