Evacuee from war-torn Ukraine eyes Nihonmatsu as 2nd hometown

Photo: Olga Ruban (center) hugs Dmytro Ostafiev in Nihonmatsu.

A Ukrainian woman who has fled to the Fukushima Prefecture city of Nihonmatsu from her Russian-invaded East European country is striving to overcome cultural, linguistic and other barriers by, for instance, learning the Japanese language while staying at a farmer's house and engaging in agricultural work. "I would like to make this place my second hometown," says Olga Ruban, 34. Prepared for a long refugee life, she is thankful to those who have helped her settle in Japan. "Konnichiwa. Watashi wa Origa desu (Hello. I am Olga)," Ruban said in Japanese on April 16, when she took a lesson on the language in Nihonmatsu for the first time. "Ukuraina-jin desu. Yoroshiku onegai shimasu (I am Ukrainian. Looking forward to living here)." Teaching her Japanese was Noriko Kikuchi, 59. She is a member of a volunteer group helping foreign residents in the city, known as "zakuzakunet," which also operates a Japanese-language class. Ruban had a serious look on her face as she was learning ways to say hello and introduce herself to make herself known. She is now set to learn how to thank and other expressions necessary in daily life. Prior to the Japanese lesson, Ruban met with fellow Ukrainian Dmytro Ostafiev at a municipal facility. "I'm glad to see you're safe. I had been worried," the 51-year-old man living in the prefectural town of Kunimi told her as they hugged each other. "I'm relieved to see you," said Ruban. They spoke in their native language and had lunch together while exchanging thoughts about each other's families in Ukraine. The war in Ukraine is still raging. Ruban wishes for an early end to the war while expressing gratitude to local residents for their support. "People in Nihonmatsu are all kind and have accepted me in a gentle manner," she said as she looked ahead to the future. "I would like to learn Japanese quickly and acquaint myself with this place. I also would like to practice kendo again." *** Ruban receives support in Japan from Shinzo Kimura, associate professor at the Fukushima office of Dokkyo Medical University's Laboratory of International Epidemiology. They have had a close friendship since Kimura visited Ukraine to survey the health conditions of residents in areas affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Kimura is soliciting donations in order to accept more Ukrainians through the nonprofit Chernobyl Medical Support Network for which he is a medical adviser. (Translated by Kyodo News)