INTERVIEW | Ukrainian envoy for Japan’s response to the Russian invasion

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Second of 3 games.

Part 1: MAINTENANCE | Ukraine’s envoy to Japan on mapping Russian offensive

On the evening of March 8, the Ministry of Defense sent a plane to Poland containing equipment donated by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, including body armor and helmets.

Nonetheless, since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the question of what to do to help the war-ravaged country has been a topic of discussion across the country.

On March 3, the Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward sat down with Ukraine’s Ambassador to Japan, Sergiy Korsunsky, in an interview discussing various aspects of the war and Japan’s and the world’s response.

In this part, Korsunsky discusses Japan’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sends a message to the Japanese people.

Excerpts follow.

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Ukrainian Ambassador to Japan Sergiy Korsunsky on March 3.

What is behind the Russian strategy of attacking residential areas?

They deliberately attack residential areas, not just accidentally. They want to see the panic.

Imagine if you live in a 25 story building and a rocket hits the middle of that building. The people who used to live there would say, “oh my god, we have to go”, right?

This chaos, this panic, that’s what they [Russians] want to. But the result is absolutely the opposite.

The result is that people send money to different foundations ー inside Ukraine, outside Ukraine. People are enrolled in the Territorial Defense [forces] and they are ready to fight.

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A fire in Irpin, Ukraine (AP Photo/Oleksandr Ratushniak)

How do you rate the financial support and sanctions from the Japanese company?

The Japanese government is amazing. We are very grateful for what has already been adopted. It’s completely in line with the G7. The sanctions introduced were unprecedented.

There are two aid packages: $100 million in the form of a soft loan through the World Bank and $100 million in the form of humanitarian assistance.

Yesterday we saw another milestone reached, that Ukrainian refugees will be welcomed to Japan. This is very important because Japan has a very strict policy for entering the country and issuing visas.

We can invite our relatives or close friends, if we are willing to sponsor them.

All the countries that I know of, the European countries, are doing the same thing, because unfortunately already more than a million people are refugees outside Ukraine, mainly women and children. Men between the ages of 18 and 60 cannot leave the country due to military conscription.

Do you imagine military armaments coming from Japan?

This is a purely theoretical question. It will not happen. We don’t even talk about it.

Ukraine is a country that respects the opinions and situations of other countries. Japan is a soft superpower. This is exactly how we view Japan.

We will not violate any law or constitution or interfere in internal discussions. If Japan decides to change the constitution in the future, that is your internal affair. We are in a new reality, and the reality is that among the G7 there are countries that supply weapons.

There are countries that provide political support. There are countries capable of providing economic support. We regard Japan as an economic superpower, and for us it is extremely important that Japan has a very good reputation among Asian nations.

What is your priority for Japan’s aid?

What we expect from Japan are pioneering efforts for the future reconstruction of Ukraine. You know well how to help other countries and you have done it many times in your history.

Other countries can provide military equipment, but Japan is much more powerful as the leader of Asia, as the democracy of Asia. This will be an example for other countries in the region to participate in reconstruction efforts.

There is ASEAN, an extremely large conglomeration of countries, and they can participate collectively.

It is very important to understand that this war has nothing to do with any other war. For the first time, the war is in the days of Facebook and Twitter, the first time you have communications, you can’t keep information inside.

This war is happening as the world is globalized. For example, Ukraine is among the top five suppliers of wheat to the world market. If you cut sunflower oil, or if you cut transport capacity through Ukraine, there will be repercussions not only for us.

This has created a problem even here in Asia. The Japanese government was kind enough to agree to divert some LNG to Europe, as the supply from Russia is currently cut off due to this war.

Maybe a century ago you wouldn’t even know about this war, if you didn’t want to. Now, whether you like it or not, it affects the lives of ordinary citizens of Japan. This is why the efforts must go far beyond the Americans and Europeans alone.

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Plastic letters arranged to read ‘Sanctions’ and soldier toys are placed in front of the colors of the flag of Ukraine and Russia in this illustration taken February 25, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

What is the current situation at the Ukrainian embassy asking for volunteers to fight in Ukraine?

It was a misunderstanding. We don’t do that.

I told Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi yesterday [March 2]. We published information that there was an already formed military unit made up of foreigners, which already exists on our Facebook page and Twitter.

But it was just an information that there is such a unit and those in the world who would like to participate. They can, but it depends on each country’s policy.

Many countries already allow their citizens to participate. But you need to understand that this is a legal issue that needs to be handled with care. If a Thai citizen enlists in a foreigner [country’s military] fight, they might end up killing someone. The question is, is it a crime?

Should [the soldier] be considered a criminal when he returns home? This is why it is an issue that each country must deal with carefully.

It’s very important that it’s a voluntary company, we don’t hire them, it’s on their own accord if people want to fight. And there are a lot of females, for example inside.

There are hundreds of people [volunteering] many countries. Many people with military experience retired early, in their 40s or 50s, and they want to help. Please come. We need them, especially those with specific knowledge and training.

So it is not specifically a question of soliciting Japanese people?

It’s not specifically for Japanese. But at the same time, we get endless calls from Japanese citizens asking about this.

So they should go to these companies [who are gathering volunteers]. We know there are Japanese companies doing this. They consulted us and we said what we needed: doctors, military doctors, because of their particular expertise.

We need firefighters, we need experienced rescuers because Japan has unique experience with earthquakes. There is special equipment for this, and Japan’s experience and know-how are probably the best in the world.

Do you have a message for the Japanese?

I would like to say to every Japanese person who expresses support for Ukraine, how grateful we are for your support. For each contribution to the account that has been opened at the Embassy. For every flower brought to the embassy. For every word you put on your Twitter account supporting Ukraine. We are very grateful to each of you.

More than 100,000 have already contributed to our account [as of March 3]. We now have almost 2.5 billion yen (17 million US dollars), which will be used for humanitarian purposes in Ukraine.

I also want you to know how much we appreciate the support of the government of Japan, which has introduced unprecedented sanctions against Russia, and for the financial and humanitarian contributions.

This is not something that will remain in Ukraine, this brutal, unprovoked and bloody war. The Russian army kills innocent Ukrainians every minute. It is absolutely unacceptable.

I am fully aware that in Japan this is also unacceptable. Thanks very much.

Keep supporting Ukraine. Ukraine is a friend of Japan. We have been a friend of Japan and will always be a friend of Japan. And in the future. I’m sure we’ll be much closer.

Thank you to all of you.

Dozoyoroshikuonegaishimasu, arigatou gozaimasu. (Thank you for your continued cooperation. Thank you.)

Continued in part 3

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Protesters outside Shibuya Station on February 24, 2022.

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(Read a related report in Japanese on this link.)

Interview by Kazuyuki Sakamoto, Arielle Busetto

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