Ukrainian mangaka reframes wartime life

When Russian troops started bombing Ukraine, a young mangaka decided to use her talents to show what everyday life was like. His work has caught the attention of manga fans around the world, including a publisher in Japan.

Akari Sayaka began posting his manga online in late February, just days after the Russian invasion began.

“Even if there is a war, I think it’s better to have something to do,” the 16-year-old Ukrainian told NHK.

Akari is both the designer’s pen name and the name of the character she is drawing. The comic is based on his own life. Sometimes that means responding to an air raid alarm. Other times it means styling your hair or shopping online.

Akari means “shining” in Japanese. The artist says he hopes his stories will radiate a little happiness in these troubled times: “I want to send joy to many readers.”

The young mangaka at work after school. She also enjoys reading manga and watching anime.

Another view of the invasion

Making people smile in the midst of a war is no easy task. When Russia invaded, some of his designs changed drastically. His manga self was suddenly rushing to air-raid shelters and building barricades in the house – just like in his real life.

But she also wanted to share stories not seen in the news – snapshots of ordinary people trying to maintain some sense of normalcy in the shadow of death and destruction.

“I think in such unpleasant events, we don’t always need to focus on the problem,” she says. “We can try to distract ourselves.

Support from Japan

Akari’s dream is to work as a mangaka in Japan. Last summer, she sent some of her creations to a manga publisher in Tokyo. The editorial team responded with advice and helped her improve her skills.

After the invasion, the editing team decided to translate Akari’s manga into Japanese.

“The manga woke me up,” says Kawada Yojiro, team leader. “It made me realize that everyday life is possible even in times of war. And I thought that was something our readers should know.” He says his team decided to support Akari’s ambition to become a manga artist in Japan.

In June, his company BookLive began offering the translated manga as an e-book. Proceeds – minus publication costs – will go to the UN Refugee Agency to help Ukrainians.

Akari says seeing her work published in Japan is “a special opportunity and a dream come true.”

“Akari-chan Life in Ukraine” by Ukrainian manga artist Akari Sayaka was released online in June.

Akari says she hopes Ukrainians can soon come back to life without the intrusion of war, but in the meantime she is happy if her work can bring some relief. “I think it’s very important to make people smile because it helps them not to give up.”