TOKYO — As millions of Ukrainians fled their country, a longtime resident of Tokyo did the opposite. Sasha Kaverina left her life in Japan and rushed to Ukraine to save her parents after a Russian missile hit their building.
Kaverina’s main goal in returning was to get her parents out of their hometown of Kharkiv, the second largest city in eastern Ukraine, to a safer place in western Ukraine. But Kaverina, who had organized fundraisers and anti-war rallies in Japan for her native country, also delivered medicine, first aid kits and other relief goods.
Like many Ukrainian expats around the world, the war in his native country has turned his life upside down. Despite reports of horrific Russian attacks, she said she was not afraid for herself, but for her parents and loved ones.
Due to her anti-war and pro-Ukrainian activities in Japan, she fears the Russians will persecute or kill her relatives if they return to Kharkiv, which is now under fierce attack and could fall under Russian control. .
“Many Ukrainians fear (that) if the Russians occupy us, pro-Ukrainians will be killed,” as they were in Bucha and other towns, she said in an online interview from Chernivtsi. , a town in southwestern Ukraine near the border. with Romania where she took her parents.
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Since then, more than 4 million Ukrainians have fled the country and millions more have been internally displaced.
Kaverina’s parents narrowly survived in early March when a Russian missile severely damaged their apartment on the eighth floor of a 16-story building and forced them to evacuate to their relatives’ home in the suburbs.
After nearly two days on planes and buses, Kaverina traveled to Chernivtsi, where she was reunited with her parents, who had crossed the country from Kharkiv to meet her.
She rents an apartment in Chernivtsi for her parents while she works remotely for her job at an IT company in Japan, where she intends to return, and volunteers as an aid worker with the help of her friends. parents.
Ukrainian officials have urged residents of eastern Ukraine to evacuate to the west. But even in Chernivtsi, the family can hear air raid warning sirens at night, despite not having come under actual shelling, she said.
Some people go to shelters every night, and the place may not be safe anymore, Kaverina said.
Every time a door slams or they hear footsteps, his parents immediately jump, apparently from the trauma caused by the missile attack on their apartment.
Kaverina worries about new Russian atrocities.
“If Kharkiv is occupied, people quoted in the media or known for their pro-Ukrainian positions can be targeted. I don’t have any issues… but I’m worried about my parents,” she said, requesting anonymity from her parents. “My parents will be targeted for being with me and for their pro-Ukrainian activities.”
Several times a day, his parents call relatives, friends and colleagues in Kharkiv to make sure everyone is safe and alive. They worry whenever someone is unreachable.
One of her father’s acquaintances was taken to “a filter camp” where Russians forced locals to remove their shirts to search for any tattoos indicating a pro-Ukrainian stance, Kaverina said.
Her father cannot leave the country because of local laws, she said, and she failed to persuade her mother to return to Tokyo with her. His parents want to return to their hometown as soon as possible, where his father’s 89-year-old mother has remained due to her advanced age.
“My parents ask me every day when they can go back to Kharkiv, and I say, ‘No, you can’t,'” she said. “They want to go back there to take their pictures, not the TV, the money or the documents… It’s so sad and maybe stupid, but for them it’s their whole life.”
Kaverina said their apartment in Kharkiv is uninhabitable, but her parents, like many others, still hope to rebuild. For her, their determination seems linked to Ukraine’s strong resistance to the Russians.
Kaverina, who has been in Japan for five years, said she has seen a lack of tolerance towards foreign residents and diversity in Japan. So she was surprised by Tokyo’s quick promise to accept displaced Ukrainians, even though Japan doesn’t expect many to come. Rather than going to a distant and unfamiliar Asian country, most Ukrainians are looking to Europe, hoping to return home at some point.
About 400 war-displaced Ukrainians have arrived in Japan, where a number of municipalities and businesses are offering to provide housing, language classes and jobs.
The biggest hurdle for many Ukrainians is getting plane tickets to Japan, she said, as they have lost their jobs, homes and money since the invasion.
Japan was quick to join the United States and other major economies in imposing sanctions on Russia and providing support for Ukraine. Tokyo has also sent non-lethal defense equipment such as helmets and body armor to Ukraine as an exception to its ban on transferring weaponry equipment to countries in conflict.
Japan can also contribute to disaster relief, including sending construction equipment, Kaverina said. Because many people died under the rubble waiting to be rescued, Kaverina said she planned to ask Komatsu or other Japanese construction machinery makers for help.
“I was just a long-time ordinary resident in Japan until a month ago, but what happened changed not only the lives of Ukrainians (in the country) but also the lives of Ukrainians overseas,” she said.