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People in Japan's Hokkaido concerned over Russian invasion of Ukraine

This January 2020 photo taken at Sapporo Kaisei Secondary School shows students interacting with individuals affiliated with Ukraine's visually-impaired sports federation. (Photo provided by the Sapporo Municipal Government)

After Russia launched a military invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, people in northern Japan's Hokkaido connected with Ukraine expressed concerns over locals' safety in the eastern European country and hoped for peace to be restored in the region as early as possible.

    "The situation changes by the minute, and I'm very worried," said Olena Kryvoruka, a 42-year-old woman from Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, which is a region with growing fears over aggravated conflict.

    Kryvoruka, who grew interested in Japan, visited the Hokkaido city of Asahikawa in 2004 as a saxophone player, and decided to move there in 2006 as she was attracted to the area which is rich in nature and has a similar climate as that of her home country. She teaches music lessons while managing a jazz bar in the city.

    One of her two older sisters lives in Luhansk, while the other lives with their mother in Ukraine's capital Kyiv, where there are ongoing tensions. Kryvoruka said, "I was able to get in touch with my sisters on the phone and through social media. My sister said that in Kyiv, they heard the sounds of bombs, but I'm glad they're safe." She hopes that Japan, the United States and Europe will cooperate to contain Russia's invasion and that the conflict will end as soon as possible.

    Kazuko Koga, 82, a resident of the Hokkaido city of Ebetsu who serves as a volunteer for a group that interacts with people from countries which were part of the former Soviet Union, commented, "My friends and I were just saying that we hoped the conflict wouldn't develop into a war. I wonder how far this will escalate." She also expressed hope for peace, saying, "I have acquaintances in both countries. They're all very good people individually, and I feel like a hole opened in my heart. Those who cry because of wars are always only ordinary people and residents, and I desperately want them to stop fighting."

    Hirofumi Watanabe, the 70-year-old president of Office One Co., a Sapporo-based company that plans concerts while inviting musicians from around the world, recalled the time when the National Philharmonic Society of Ukraine Kiev and Ukrainian singers came to Japan and performed with a Sapporo choir around eight years ago. He said, "We weren't able to understand each other's language, but I remember the Ukrainian singers and our choir shaking hands. I wonder what they are doing now."

    Concerns regarding the people of Ukraine were also voiced in the prefectural capital of Sapporo, which hosted the Ukraine men's national goalball team during the Tokyo Paralympic Games in August 2021.

    In January 2020, Sapporo Kaisei Secondary School welcomed parties from Ukraine, including a federation of visually impaired individuals, who visited to inspect the area in regard to the city's projects as a Paralympic host town. Before the Paralympics were held, the school sent videos showing its students and others providing messages of encouragement to the athletes, as well as masks decorated with the Ukrainian and Japanese flags, which deepened ties with the country. Vice principal Satoshi Nishimura commented, "It was a meaningful time for our students. We can only watch the situation while worrying about them."

    Kenichi Konno, 51, chief of the Sapporo Municipal Government's sports bureau strategy section, said that the goalball team's manager had emailed him back saying that they were doing well, and thanked him for his concern. However, the situation in the region worsened following the Russian invasion. Konno commented, "Watching the news, I'm extremely worried. I want to check in with them about the situation when the timing is good, but now I can only pray they're OK."

    Meanwhile, Tamaki Sato, 57, a representative of the citizen group Hokkaido Peace Movement Forum, said, "I hope the war doesn't spread across Europe. It would be good if Japan-Russia relations didn't turn sour ..."

    (Japanese original by Nobuaki Tsuchiya, Asahikawa Bureau, and Nozomi Gemma, Kunihiko Misawa and Junichi Tsuchiya, Hokkaido News Department)

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