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Safe but alone in Osaka, teen Ukrainian evacuee longs to return to family, home

Lina Akintieva walks beneath the cherry blossoms at a park near her apartment, in Osaka's Kita Ward on March 30, 2022. (Mainichi/Naohiro Yamada)

OSAKA -- Lina Akintieva came to Osaka in early March, the end of a long and solitary journey from the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. The 17-year-old university student and fashion model had fled her hometown as the steel wave of the Russian army slammed into it, gripping it in a grinding battle that continues to rage weeks after Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine.

    Akintieva has been to Japan several times before for work, but since arriving this time she has lived the life of an evacuee, supported by her Japanese model agency. Her parents and boyfriend have been sending encouragement, though they themselves remain in Ukraine. Meanwhile Akintieva, though safe in Japan, spends her days racked with worry as the war rolls on with no end in sight.

    Lina Akintieva shows a photo she took of evacuees crowding the railway station in Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine, in early March 2022, in Osaka's Kita Ward on March 30, 2022. (Mainichi/Naohiro Yamada)

    Her world had revolved around her studies at a university in Kharkiv, punctuated by magazine modeling gigs in South Korea and Japan. On Feb. 24, that all came flying apart, when she was awoken by the sound of a tremendous explosion. It was Day 1 of the Russian invasion.

    She wondered what would happen next. The following day, Akintieva went for a walk around her Kharkiv neighborhood, and saw locals in long queues to buy food and water. The day after that, Feb. 26, there was another great explosion in the predawn hours. The sky was lit up, and smoke was spreading through the city. Her parents begged her to flee, even alone, and so she did.

    Akintieva is now living in an apartment arranged for her by her Japanese agency. On days she's not working, she studies, does yoga, goes for walks, lives her life. She cannot find peace, and while walking beneath the cherry blossoms in a nearby park, she says she thought about how they will bloom a little later in Ukraine. She began to feel wistful. There are sakura cherry trees in Kharkiv, and in many places across the country -- symbols of friendship between Japan and Ukraine.

    Akintieva says that her parents always want updates on how she is doing, what she's up to each day. And her boyfriend always worries more about her than himself. She makes sure to keep in touch with them every day.

    She adds that she worries relentlessly about what will happen to her home country, and that she wants to return there, where her loved ones are, as soon as she can.

    (Japanese original by Sachiko Miyakawa, Osaka City News Department)

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