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Russian translator strives to spread 'Children of the A-bomb' testimonies in home country

Maria Kirichenko delivers a lecture while holding her Russian translation of "Children of the A-bomb" in Tokyo's Toshima Ward on Aug. 13, 2022. (Mainichi/Hiroyuki Tanaka)

TOKYO -- "All of a sudden a lot of needles got in my eyes. I couldn't tell where anything was. When I opened my eyes everything was darkish." "I touched his (my dad's) body and it was cold, and he was already dead."

    These are the words of a fourth grader recounting his experience of the 1945 Hiroshima atomic bombing at just 4 years old, read aloud in Russian by translator Maria Kirichenko in Tokyo on Aug. 13. The Russian version of the 1951 book "Children of the A-bomb" translated by the 48-year-old Japanese culture and literature researcher was released in 2010. The book's cover has an image of a child's eye gazing at an atomic mushroom cloud.

    "Children of the A-bomb" was edited by Arata Osada, an education specialist and himself a "hibakusha" A-bomb survivor. It compiles the testimonies of 105 children who lived through the atomic bombing, and the grief over lost parents and anxiety about their health leaps off the pages.

    After graduating from Moscow State University, Kirichenko came to Japan to study and lived here for 17 years. Through translating the book, she experienced the tragedy of the atomic bombing. "It was a very mentally challenging task. Midway through, I began crying and fell ill, and I had to go into the hospital," she said. It took over a year to complete the work.

    Kirichenko recently visited Japan from Moscow to attend a gathering hosted by the Nihon kodomo o mamoru kai (Japan group to protect children) in Tokyo's Toshima Ward on Aug. 13. The event, dedicated to praying for peace, was the 19th hosted by the group. It planned the lecture by Kirichenko following the January 2022 death of Yokohama City University professor emeritus Goro Osada -- Arata Osada's son, who devoted himself to the publication of "Children of the A-bomb" in foreign languages, including Russian. The Hiroshima Municipal Government did not invite Russia to this year's peace memorial ceremony on the atomic bombing's anniversary on Aug. 6. However, 56-year-old Ueda Women's Junior College professor and Nihon kodomo o mamoru kai director Maki Osada -- Arata Osada's granddaughter -- said, "We must value interaction on a grassroots level, especially at a time like this."

    Kirichenko's father Aleksey Kirichenko, who passed away in 2019 at age 82, is known for his research on the history of Japan and Russia. He was a colonel in the Soviet Union's KGB spy agency, and criticized the Soviet declaration of war against Japan close to the end of World War II. He also investigated Japanese prisoners' internment in Siberia after the war.

    "My father loved Japan, and said he wished he were born a Japanese in Japan," Kirichenko said. Her father's influence is behind her efforts to master the Japanese language.

    This provided image shows the cover of "Children of the A-bomb," which was edited by Arata Osada and won the Mainichi Publishing Culture Award for fiscal 1952.

    A total of 3,000 copies of the Russian version of "Children of the A-bomb" were published and received considerable attention, such as reading sessions at Moscow schools. This summer, a documentary film mentioning the book was made. The film follows a play themed on the history and reality of nuclear weapons which was performed by Russian children in April. Kirichenko was also interviewed for the documentary, which has been released online.

    In addition, Kirichenko introduces "Children of the A-bomb" and peace education promoted by Arata Osada in the Far East edition of a reference volume on the history of education around the world, aimed at academics and education specialists. She oversaw the Japan section of the volume, which is set to be published soon.

    "I'd like 'Children of the A-bomb' to become known in Russia and have young people learn about what happened at the time of the atomic bombing through actual testimonies," she said. Meanwhile, the play and documentary justify having nuclear weapons as a deterrent -- a far cry from the nuclear-free world hoped for by hibakusha and a stark reminder of the realities of Russia as a nuclear power.

    Kirichenko is a Japanese language instructor at Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Diplomatic Academy. Regarding the invasion on Ukraine, she said, "I still can't believe it. Many Russians have relatives in Ukraine. But, I can comment no further."

    As Japanese-Russo relations worsen amid the war in Ukraine, Kirichenko was chosen in July as the new chairperson of an association promoting exchanges between Russia and Japan. Though it seems she may have gotten off to a rough start, she said, "We can't end relations between Japan and Russia, which have a history. I'd like to think about what we can do from my position as a member of the public."

    (Japanese original by Hiroyuki Tanaka, Cultural News Department)

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