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Ukrainian evacuee twins receive warm welcome at northeast Japan elementary school

Ukrainian evacuees Semen Ueno, center, and his twin brother Maksym, left, are led by older children to Ohno Elementary School in the town of Hirono, Iwate Prefecture, on June 7, 2022. (Mainichi/Shinichi Okuda)

HIRONO, Iwate -- Ukrainian evacuee twins received a warm welcome at an elementary school in this northeast Japan town after their enrollment on June 7.

    Semen and Maksym Ueno, both 7, evacuated from the western Ukraine city of Zhytomyr after the Russian invasion of the country to their relatives' home in the town of Hirono, Iwate Prefecture. The boys were enrolled at the municipal Ohno Elementary School, and greeted other children in Japanese at a morning assembly, saying, "Ohayo gozaimasu" (Good morning). Some 80 students said, "Welcome to Ohno Elementary School," and gave gifts to their new schoolmates.

    The twins are grandsons of former Japanese soldier Ishinosuke Uwano, who was from this town and died in Ukraine. They came to Japan with their mother Olena Lohachova, 46, and aunt Nadiia Zaichuk, 60, via Poland, and have been staying at the home of Uwano's nephew Yukio, 75, since April 10.

    Lohachova wanted her twin sons to attend a local school at Hirono, and the municipal education board decided to accept them as first graders because they had not attended a primary school in their home country.

    Ukrainian evacuees Semen Ueno, second from right, and his twin brother Maksym, second from left, greet other students at a morning assembly at Ohno Elementary School in the town of Hirono, Iwate Prefecture, on June 7, 2022. (Mainichi/Shinichi Okuda)

    The brothers took a school bus, and were led by older students by the hand to the school building, where they attended the morning assembly at the gym hall. Board members of the student council introduced school events such as the sports day and graduation ceremony, and gave them seeds of morning glory they grow at the school.

    Principal Junko Kubota told reporters, "We'll work closely with their mother so that the boys can feel at ease (at the school)."

    For the time being, the boys will spend their school days with a Russian language interpreter commissioned by the municipal education board. They will join regular classes and also individually take Japanese language lessons.

    (Japanese original by Shinichi Okuda, Sanriku Local Bureau)

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