Thoughts of Home: A Family’s Journey from Ukraine to Japan

Society

A Ukrainian woman and her Japanese husband help her mother and young siblings flee the war in Ukraine and take refuge in Japan.

Safe in Japan

“Why start a war?” asks 22-year-old Anastasia, pain and frustration in her voice. A native of Ukraine, she now lives with her husband of three years, Kazuma, in Tokyo. When Russian troops invaded her country on February 24, her immediate thoughts were of the safety of her family back home.

Anastasia’s mother Maya, six-year-old sister Regina, and four-year-old brother Matvyi were in the eastern city of Dnipro. Watching reports of bombings and other devastation as the war progressed, Anastasia spent sleepless nights worrying over their wellbeing.

Anastasia (top, right) with her mother and siblings in Ukraine.
Anastasia (top, right) with her mother and siblings in Ukraine.

Just over a week into the invasion, she and her husband started making plans to evacuate her family to Japan. Kazuma got to work securing visas and Anastasia began making other arrangements.

Anastasia (right) and husband Kazuma talk about their plans to bring her family to Japan in a March 4 interview for Fuji Television program Mezamashi Terebi.
Anastasia (right) and husband Kazuma talk about their plans to bring her family to Japan in a March 4 interview for Fuji Television program Mezamashi Terebi.

Maya and her two young children left Dnipro by train on March 5 to begin their long journey to Japan. The first leg took them to Poland, some 1,000 kilometers away. Maya says the swaying train was packed with other refugees fleeing the conflict. Switching to a bus partway along their route, the three finally stepped across the border into Poland after a grueling 40 hours of travel.

Regina stares out the window of the train from Dnipro.
Regina stares out the window of the train from Dnipro.

It took another 10 days for the trio to reach Japan, where they were met by a relieved Anastasia and Kazuma at Narita Airport on March 17. After an emotional reunion, the new arrivals began the arduous process of settling into life in their host country.

The family shares joyful hugs at Narita Airport.
The family shares joyful hugs at Narita Airport.

Life in Japan

Letting Maya, Regina, and Matvyi rest from their ordeal, Kazuma started the process of changing the 90-day visas that they had entered Japan on for special visas that would allow them to remain in the country for up to a year. Under the new visa status, the family would be able to join the national health insurance scheme, Maya would be eligible to work, and the children could attend school.

Anastasia spends time with her young brother and sister at her home.
Anastasia spends time with her young brother and sister at her home.

Coming to Japan had been expensive. The family’s airline tickets alone had cost hundreds of thousands of yen. Once in the country, they now had to work out how they were going to support themselves. Kazuma visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building to find out what support was available and learned that Maya and the children were eligible to live in municipal housing rent free. He hurriedly filled out the necessary paperwork for the program during his work breaks.

Kazuma and Anastasia talk with Tokyo government employees about support programs available to Ukrainian refugees in Japan.
Kazuma and Anastasia talk with Tokyo government employees about support programs available to Ukrainian refugees in Japan.

The three had fled with only a few items of luggage, but when Kazuma put the word out that they were in need of extra clothing, acquaintances in Japan were quick to answer the call. Donations of clothing and other items, including toys for the children, poured in.

The family receive bags of clothing and other supplies.
The family receive bags of clothing and other supplies.

In less than a month of arriving, Maya and the children had a place to stay and were preparing for the next stage of their new lives. April 6 was a busy day for the family. Regina started elementary school and Matvyi had his first day of kindergarten. Not to be left out, Maya soon began studying at a Japanese language school. Although now safe in Japan, Maya remains concerned about her family back in Ukraine. “I want to be able to go home,” she says sadly.

Maya and Regina talk with family back in Ukraine.
Maya and Regina talk with family back in Ukraine.

The war in Ukraine shows no sign of ending, making it unlikely that the three will be able to return to their homeland for some time. Until then, they will continue living in Japan.

(Originally published in Japanese on FNN’ s Prime Online on April 30, 2022. Translated and edited by Nippon.com. Banner photo: The family poses in front of Regina’s new Japanese elementary school during the entry ceremony held on April 6, 2022. Text by Kuramoto Takuhiro and Imoto Saki.)

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