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Tokyo firm donates 1,000 interpreting devices to help Ukrainian evacuees

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A Japanese firm has donated 1,000 pocket interpreter devices to the Ukrainian Embassy in Japan to ease the language difficulties many evacuees face starting new lives in the country.

    The initiative to provide the Pocketalk handhelds came from Tokyo-based Pocketalk Corp. "Our mission is to eliminate language barriers. I hope they can help evacuees," its president, Noriyuki Matsuda, said.

    Pocketalk is a small, smartphone-like handheld that offers easy translation functionality. Users simply push a button while speaking, and the device translates what they have said into a chosen target language and displays it on the screen. It can also play a recording of the phrase.

    The device is compatible with 70 languages, including Ukrainian, and can also process 12 other languages for which it lacks voice output functionality. Total units shipped worldwide have topped 900,000 since Pocketalk's release in 2017.

    During his 2019 visit to Japan, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attended a lunch meeting hosted by the Japan Association of New Economy, in which Matsuda participated as one of its directors. With that connection, Matsuda thought about what he could do to help soon after the invasion began.

    On March 14, he donated 1,000 of the interpreting devices to the Embassy of Ukraine in Tokyo. An embassy official said they are distributing one to each evacuee family, with around 100 already given out directly or by mail.

    "Most of the evacuees don't understand Japanese. They were thankful," the official said.

    "We've always worked to ensure the product can be used with as many languages as possible. It's good it can support Ukrainian, too," said Matsuda. The firm has also distributed more than 300 Pocketalk devices to evacuees in a Polish town near the Ukrainian border.

    According to the company, instances of users choosing to translate from Ukrainian to other languages were up five times in late March than in mid-January before the invasion, with usage by evacuees a likely factor.

    Currently, Japan has over 500 evacuees from Ukraine, and their numbers could increase.

    Regarding how he hopes the products might be used, Matsuda said, "I'm sure they'll have many chances to help in tasks like administrative processes at local government offices or opening a bank account. I hope they might help them get to know Japanese people, too, and, in some small way, ease the loneliness of being separated from their homeland."

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