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Ukrainian evacuee, daughter reunite in Japan after gov't secures seats on regular flights

Elena Yoshino, left, rejoices as she is reunited with her mother, Valentyna Bobokalo, after the latter emerged from immigration clearance, at Narita International Airport in Chiba Prefecture on May 7, 2022. It was the first time in five years for the mother and daughter to see each other. (Mainichi/Daisuke Wada)

NARITA, Chiba -- A Ukrainian woman living in Tokyo was reunited with her mother at Narita International Airport east of the Japanese capital earlier this month as a direct flight from Poland carrying evacuees from war-torn Ukraine arrived.

    The Japanese government has secured seats on such flights, shuttling Ukrainian evacuees to the airport in Chiba Prefecture every Saturday.

    The Ukrainian flag is seen drawn on a mask worn by Valentyna Bobokalo, in this photo taken at Narita International Airport in Chiba Prefecture on May 7, 2022. (Mainichi/Daisuke Wada)

    Elena Yoshino, 47, a resident of Tokyo, was seen waiting for her mother to appear at the arrival lobby shortly before noon on May 7. She was among a number of Ukrainians living in Japan awaiting their family members' arrivals at the airport via flights from Warsaw.

    "Why has she not appeared yet?" Elena said, appearing tired of waiting for her mother, Valentyna Bobokalo, 66, in the arrival lobby. Two hours had passed since a sign had indicated the flight had landed.

    Elena Yoshino is seen waiting for her mother to appear in the arrival lobby of Narita International Airport in Chiba Prefecture on May 7, 2022. (Mainichi/Daisuke Wada)

    Valentyna fled from Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, on May 1, following Russia's invasion of her country. She decided to evacuate as she was able to obtain a ticket for a seat on a train heading to Warsaw, even though trains bound for the Polish capital were normally crowded.

    According to Elena, her mother was living by herself after her husband passed away. "It's also tough for her mentally," she told the Mainichi Shimbun.

    Welfare workers who support Ukrainian evacuees by providing housing and other necessities wait for the arrival of Ukrainian evacuees at Narita International Airport in Chiba Prefecture on May 7, 2022. (Mainichi/Daisuke Wada)

    About three hours after the flight's landing, Elena finally spotted her mother, dashed to her and hugged her.

    "I was relieved. I'm happy beyond description," Elena said. "My mom will probably stay in Japan for quite a while. It's the first time for her to be away from her home this long. I want her to get accustomed to life here as soon as possible."

    (Japanese original by Daisuke Wada, Photo Group)

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