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Art by Kazakh painter, hibakusha Kuyukov shown in Hiroshima ahead of summit

Kazakh artist Karipbek Kuyukov is seen standing beside his work at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima's Naka Ward on April 28, 2023. (Mainichi/Kiyomasa Nakamura)

HIROSHIMA -- An exhibition by Karipbek Kuyukov, a Kazakh artist born without arms as a result of exposure to radiation from Soviet nuclear testing, was held late April at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum here, shedding light on "global hibakusha," or people exposed to radiation worldwide, ahead of the Group of Seven Hiroshima summit.

    Kuyukov's works, painted using his mouth and feet, vividly depict severe nuclear damage across the globe. His paintings, including one showing a boy staring at his hands with a mushroom cloud in the distance and another depicting a child wearing a gas mask standing in a dark room, suggest that nuclear experiments cast a dark shadow over children's lives.

    The exhibition marked the painter's fourth visit to Japan. Kuyukov, 54, was born in a village about 100 kilometers from the Semipalatinsk Test Site in eastern Kazakhstan, where the former Soviet Union conducted a total of 456 nuclear tests between 1949 and 1989. Kuyukov says he has been drawing since he was in elementary school, holding a paintbrush in his mouth or between his toes. As a hibakusha, he says his wish is for a world without nuclear weapons and hopes that he will be one of the last victims.

    Kuyukov came to Japan this time with other artists as part of a cultural exchange program between Japan and Kazakhstan. The Hiroshima Semipalatinsk Project, which has been providing medical assistance to victims of Soviet nuclear testing and accepting foreign students since its establishment in 1998, welcomed Kuyukov to Hiroshima. It has called for more attention to be given to global hibakusha at the G7 summit.

    Kazakh artist Karipbek Kuyukov's work is seen at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima's Naka Ward on April 28, 2023. (Mainichi/Kiyomasa Nakamura)

    The group is headed by 68-year-old Keiichi Sasaki from Hiroshima's Asakita Ward. His mother was exposed to radiation due to the atomic bombing of the city and died of leukemia at a young age. Since 1999, Sasaki has visited Kazakhstan three times to meet with nuclear testing victims. The test site is a vast area the size of west Japan's Shikoku region, but since it's a large plain, radioactive materials are believed to have been spread over a wide area by the wind.

    Sasaki recalled, "I met many children with physical disabilities at the local hospital. I realized once again the seriousness of the nuclear damage." As a result of protests, the Semipalatinsk Test Site was closed in 1991. A survey on health damage was conducted and victims were compensated. Sasaki, however, said, "There are many ethnic minorities among the victims. There must be more damage that remains unaccounted for."

    The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which went into effect in 2021, stipulates support for survivors of nuclear weapons and experiments. Although none of the G7 nations have ratified the treaty, Sasaki said, "Since there's an increased risk of the use of nuclear weapons due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we want people to know that there are those suffering from the harm caused by nuclear tests now more than ever."

    (Japanese original by Kiyomasa Nakamura, Hiroshima Bureau)

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