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Japanese-speaking, Russian YouTuber duo express anger over invasion of Ukraine

Vlas Kobara, left, and Alexandra Nakaniwa of Pirozhkis. (Photo courtesy of Almost Japanese)

TOKYO -- Pirozhkis, a popular Russian YouTuber duo who grew up in Japan, are raising their voices against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While their channel is usually packed with funny videos of them talking in Japan's Kansai dialect, they are angry now and calling for peace and an end to the war.

    "This is the worst birthday. I never thought the day would come when I would be so ashamed of being Russian. I think the majority of Russians feel this way," Alexandra Nakaniwa tweeted in Japanese on Feb. 24 -- her 31st birthday and the day Russia invaded Ukraine. Originally from Moscow, Nakaniwa is one of the two members of Pirozhkis along with Vlas Kobara, 29, who is originally from Khabarovsk. He was also filled with anger he didn't know what to do with. On Feb. 26, the pair announced they would be donating revenue from their YouTube channel to the Ukrainian Red Cross.

    On March 4, eight days after the invasion began, the Mainichi Shimbun interviewed the duo online.

    "I'm against the invasion, and I have strong anxiety about what might happen next," Kobara began. "What President Putin is doing is destroying Ukraine and Russia. The way the whole world sees Russians will change. There is no single way that (the invasion) is benefitting the Russian people."

    Nakaniwa mentioned her concern for children in the war zone. "In Ukraine, small children are losing their lives every day. It saddens me that the lives of children and young people with futures are being so easily taken away from them," she said.

    Nakaniwa's father, grandmother, cousins and uncle live in Russia, and are worried about her, she said. Day after day, there are reports of people who participate in anti-war demonstrations being taken into custody by Russian authorities. "They ask me if it's okay for me to criticize Russia on television and YouTube, and whether I won't put myself in danger by doing so. I'm fine because I'm in Japan, but I do get nervous that what I'm doing here might have repercussions for my family in Russia."

    Kobara said, "We both have permanent residency here. Compared to Russians in Russia or Russians in Japan who don't have permanent residency, we're in a safer position, which allows us to make ourselves heard." Nakaniwa said, "We are the ones who have to raise our voices."

    When the invasion began, both Kobara and Nakaniwa were bombarded with what could be described as threats. They received messages such as: "Be careful when you're out walking," "Hurry up and go back to Russia," and, "If you have the time to cry, show us footage of you getting on your knees and bowing until your heads touch the ground."

    Regarding the messages, Kobara said, "Of course, we don't feel good about them. But we also don't want to be swayed by them. Attacking people because they're from some country is a big factor in starting a war. I realized (through those messages) that this is what becomes a big cause of war."

    The two have tried to dismiss such insensitive remarks, but there is one thing that Kobara and Nakaniwa want to respond to: People who say that "President Putin was elected by Russian citizens, so Russians have a responsibility for what is going on."

    "Realistically speaking, there are many Russians who do support President Putin," Nakaniwa said. But she then cited the experiences of her family members and friends. "Before one election, a bureaucrat came to visit my grandmother at home and was apparently told, 'Please vote for Putin. If you don't, you won't get your pension.' My friends have been told similar things. One was told before an election, 'You want to work, don't you? Then you know what you need to do.' When your livelihood is on the line, not voting for President Putin takes quite a bit of courage."

    Both feel a real sense of fear over Putin's nuclear threats. Kobara said, "I think President Putin himself feels very cornered, and is terrified. The nuclear button is right near the hands of someone in that state of mind. He went through with invading Ukraine, something which it was believed would not happen. I think anything could happen now."

    (Japanese original by Yukako Ono, Digital News Center)

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