Ukrainian refugees in Japan worry about the future

Olena Patrikei, right, with a Russian interpreter in Tokyo’s Chiyoda district on Wednesday. (Japan News-Yomiuri)

TOKYO – Many Ukrainians who fled to Japan after Russia invaded their country are expressing concern about their long-term prospects here.

Thursday marked three months since the government began accepting refugees from Ukraine, and more than 1,000 of those people have embarked on a new life in Japan with support from the private sector.

Olena Patrikei, who lived in Kyiv, started work on Wednesday at the welfare company Anispi Holdings Inc. in Tokyo. “I would like to make character products to promote the company,” she said with a smile. Patrikei had worked as a designer in his home country.

In March, Anispi announced on its website that it would provide housing and employment assistance to displaced Ukrainians. Patrikei, 29, learned of the offer from an acquaintance and arrived in Japan on May 6. She now lives and works at the company’s premises in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture.

Kyiv was exposed to heavy shelling and Patrikei was only able to evacuate with one small backpack. The 100,000 yen she received from the Funabashi Municipal Government for clothing and daily necessities did not last long.

Although she managed to find a job, Patrikei still worries about her husband and parents who remain in Kyiv. When asked to leave her apartment in the capital, she donated all her household goods to local residents who had lost their homes.

But Patrikei worries about how long her current lifestyle will last.

According to the Japan Immigration Services Agency, as of May 31, 1,154 displaced Ukrainians have entered Japan. About 70, who have no relatives here, live in temporary government-provided housing and receive a maximum of 1,000 yen per person per day.

The agency interviewed refugees to help them with housing, employment, schools and introductions to local governments who offered support. So far, 20 people from 10 families have been accepted by local governments. After moving into permanent housing in places such as Tokyo, Kanagawa, Aichi, Osaka and other prefectures, their daily cash payment will increase to 2,400 yen.

The government does not waive living expenses if a displaced person has relatives or acquaintances in Japan who can act as guarantors, on the grounds that some level of support is already available.

However, there have been cases where refugees with relatives in Japan could not find jobs and then fell into poverty.

A 44-year-old Ukrainian woman who came to Japan in March with her three children had an acquaintance here who served as her guarantor, but she could not be relied on financially. The woman’s savings soon ran out due to travel and food costs. The woman, who does not speak Japanese, started working part-time in April at a transport company, where she earns a modest income by stuffing flyers into envelopes. In Ukraine, she had worked as a psychotherapist.

“I smile in front of my kids, but sometimes when I’m alone I can’t hold back my tears,” she said.

The Tokyo labor office reports that Hello Work job placement offices in Tokyo had received around 10 job applications from displaced Ukrainians by the end of May. However, none got jobs, as they did not speak Japanese.

Some refugees have started taking Japanese classes, but classes often take place during the day on weekdays, making it difficult to balance work and school.

“Some guarantors cannot support people back home financially,” said Yuria Yokoyama of the Japan YMCA, a group that supports Ukrainians in Japan who have fled their country. “We have to think about sustainable support for everyone, with the cooperation of the public and private sectors.