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Ukrainian family moves to Japan to give children hope for the future

From right, Nataliia Muliavka and her daughters Vladyslava and Myroslava, are seen playing in a park in Tokyo's Minato Ward on April 5, 2022. Her husband Serhii remains in Ukraine to protect the town as a member of the militia. (Mainichi/Yuki Miyatake)=Click/tap photo for more images.

TOKYO -- Two months have passed since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. The Japanese government has expressed its intention to actively welcome people fleeing the country, and up to 661 Ukrainians have evacuated to Japan as of April 17. The Mainichi Shimbun met with a family who began living in Japan after escaping the horrors of war, which rage on with no end in sight.

    Olga Milikofu, left, welcomes her relative Nataliia Muliavka, who evacuated from Ukraine's Kremenchuk, on March 26 at Narita International Airport. (Mainichi/Yuki Miyatake)=Click/tap photo for more images.

    Nataliia Muliavka, 36, and her daughters Myroslava, 6, and Vladyslava, 2, fled Kremenchuk, located along the Dnieper River in east-central Ukraine, with the help of their relative Olga Milikofu, who lives in the city of Yokohama's Minami Ward.

    On the morning of Feb. 24, when the Russian invasion began, Nataliia was woken by a phone call from a friend telling her, "The Russian invasion has started." Though she did not believe it at first, she realized it was true when she heard the unfamiliar sound of an air raid alert as she was preparing to drop off her daughters at their preschool. She left her two daughters in her mother's care to keep them safe, and drove to pharmacies and gas stations with her 33-year-old husband Serhii to stock up on supplies. Everywhere they went was overflowing with people.

    Together with community residents, the two then created sandbags from sand collected from the Dnieper River flowing in the town and established a checkpoint on the road before they commenced surveillance to watch for Russian troops. If an airstrike alarm went off in the middle of their work, they evacuated to a nearby air-raid shelter with other residents. Though the couple continued to lead such lives until March 16, Nataliia's husband urged her to evacuate as the situation was worsening, and she decided to evacuate the country with her two daughters.

    Myroslava Muliavka is seen talking with her father Serhii, who remains in their home country Ukraine, in the city of Yokohama's Minami Ward on April 6, 2022. (Mainichi/Yuki Miyatake)=Click/tap photo for more images.

    The train to Lviv departed after dusk to avoid Russian attacks, and was dark with no heating due to a blackout. Nataliia put her coat on her two daughters, who were shivering in the dark, and the family escaped to Lviv through a 19-hour journey. They then switched to a bus and took 10 hours to head to Warsaw in Poland. Nataliia's eyes naturally filled with tears when she arrived at Narita International Airport, with the airplane ticket Milikofu prepared for her, in her hand.

    Her husband remained in Ukraine to serve as a member of a militia consisting of civilians. When the two parted, Nataliia was concerned that she may not be able to hug her husband ever again, but she told herself that it was to protect their children. She still calls him every day, and checks his wellbeing. However, she struggles to come up with a response when her daughters ask her, "When can we meet daddy?"

    She commented, "Children are Ukraine's future. I'd like mine to grow up into prosperous adults by having them attend school in Japan. We can only continue our lives while having faith that we can return to our home country one day."

    (Japanese original by Yuki Miyatake, Photo Group)

    In Photos: Ukrainian evacuees look to the future as they begin new lives in Japan

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