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17-yr-old in Japan raises money for Ukraine after cousin forced to flee country

Yamato Matsumoto, center, who started a fundraising campaign to support Ukraine, and Yusei Tsuji, left, an evacuee from Ukraine, are seen in Kumamoto's Chuo Ward on March 20, 2022. On the right is Yusei's older brother, Yusuke. (Mainichi/Sonoko Nakamura)
Yamato Matsumoto, left, helps his cousin Yusei Tsuji, center, an evacuee from Ukraine, with his kanji studies, in Kumamoto's Chuo Ward, on March 20, 2022. On the right is Yusei's older brother, Yusuke. (Mainichi/Sonoko Nakamura)

KUMAMOTO -- A high school student here whose cousin evacuated from Ukraine days before Russia invaded has started a humanitarian aid fundraising campaign for the country.

    In about three weeks, Yamato Matsumoto, 17, managed to collect roughly 100,000 yen (around $820) from some 200 people, including those connected with his high school baseball team.

    "I would like to use these donations to help with living costs for those in need in Ukraine," the second-year student at Kyushu Gakuin High School said.

    Matsumoto's 12-year-old cousin Yusei Tsuji was living in Ukraine with his 44-year-old Ukrainian mother. In mid-February, a week before the Russian invasion began, he evacuated to Kumamoto, where his 52-year-old father Hidetaka lives.

    Matsumoto is happy to see Yusei again after three years, and spends his time helping his cousin study kanji characters before he enters junior high school in April, and playing baseball together.

    Yusei's mother remained in Dnipro in eastern Ukraine until early March to take care of her father, but with battle looming, she made a 16-hour, 1,400-kilometer trek to neighboring Poland. However, not only his grandfather but also his aunt, who lives in Kharkiv -- a scene of intense fighting and heavy Russian bombardment in the country's northeast -- have stayed to "protect their homes."

    Matsumoto thought, "Is there anything I can do?" and started a fundraising campaign in early March. His teammates on the school baseball club and members of his mother's volleyball team cooperated, as well as Ryota Kawano, 20, a Kyushu Gakuin baseball team alumnus who is now an infielder with Nippon Professional Baseball's Saitama Seibu Lions organization.

    Matsumoto plans to deliver the donations to public organizations working to support Ukraine. "I'm worried when I see the situation in Ukraine worsening day by day on the news. I hope the war will end soon so that Yusei can return to Ukraine safely," he said.

    For inquiries about the donation, contact Golden Age, a company in Kumamoto run by Hidetaka, at 096-295-8331 (in Japanese).

    (Japanese original by Sonoko Nakamura, Kumamoto Bureau)

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