Ukrainian Japanese Teacher’s Desperate Attempt to Help Her Country | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Ukrainian Japanese Teacher’s Desperate Attempt to Help Her Country

Non-fiction writer Takehide Mizutani's "Ukrainian War" local reportage

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Lyubov Sorokina, 28, a Japanese teacher living in Kyiv. A building near her home had broken window glass from the blast, which was repaired with plywood and other materials.The windows on each floor were covered with plastic, and debris piled up on the ground. The top floor of a 12-story building was destroyed, as if the concrete had been torn out.

“I heard that Ukraine shelled Russian missiles, and the debris and the blast made it look like that,” said a Ukrainian woman, a Japanese teacher.

Lyubov Sorokina, 28, a Ukrainian woman who teaches Japanese, said excitedly, pointing to a corner of a building. Two months after the full-scale invasion by Russian forces, the area is a little more tidy than it was then, but traces of the war still remain.


“It was a loud sound and tremors,” she said. When I lived in Japan, I experienced an earthquake in Nagoya, but it was much stronger. It was terrifying.”

Near the building, two cars, one crumpled and one overturned, lay abandoned.

A building in the city of Kyiv under Russian missile attack. Ms. Lyubov lives in an apartment just a few blocks away.
A damaged car parked near the building. This shows the severity of the missile attack by the Russian military.

The missile fragments hit the residential area in the capital city of Kyiv, where Ms. Lyubov lives, at around 4:00 am on March 17. The location is about 5km west of the presidential palace, by the Kyiv Zoo, a 10- minute drive away. Lyubov, who lives in an apartment nearby, was sleeping with her mother in the bathroom for the evacuation.

“I immediately covered my mother,” she said. “I thought I was going to die. Even so, I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t panic. But my mother seemed to be okay. She might be the most mentally strong person in the family.”

Ms. Lyubov, who had been working as a Japanese language teacher, resigned from the language school where she worked in Kyiv last November. Since then, she has been at home creating Japanese language teaching materials and conducting research on Japanese language education. Since her mother was born in Russia, she has set up her home so that she can watch Russian commercial TV. Suddenly, the content of the programs changed, and there was an increase in news about Ukraine.

“A child speaking Russian was shot and killed by a Ukrainian nationalist. And it’s a video of a child’s doll covered in blood. In addition, a message was broadcast on the news that Russia invaded Ukraine to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine. I knew something was wrong, but people around me didn’t think a war was about to break out.”

At midnight on the 23rd of the same month, the day before the full-scale invasion by Russia, President Vladimir Putin gave a speech that lasted about two hours. Lyubov and her parents were glued to the TV.

“‘We must protect the world. If we don’t invade Ukraine, the world will end.’ I remember I was so angry when he was saying those things in his speech. I felt sick to my stomach. I guess you could call it a sixth sense, but I felt that something was already going to happen.”


“I couldn’t sleep that day. While lying in bed, at around 5:00 am on the following day, the 24th, she heard the sound of an explosion. After a while, she changed out of her pajamas into clothes and packed her passport, important documents, and groceries into a suitcase. I tried to stay as far away from the window panes as possible in the house.”

“I was born in Ukraine, so I was still okay, but my mother was born in Russia, so she was quite shocked, not believing that war had started, and wondering how this could happen in the 21st century.”

Alarms were sounding in the city of Kyiv.

Lyubov moved to the parking lot of her apartment building with her parents and two dogs and got into her car. Since the dogs were with her, she did not consider evacuating the country, and from that day on she basically lived in her car, going to her room on the 11th floor only once a day, taking a shower, and returning to her car with the food she had cooked. “I listened to the news on the radio. But I did not sleep well in the car. Only once did I lay down on a mattress on the floor of the parking lot.”

“I could only sleep for 10 minutes because it was so cold.”

The Internet connection was poor, and she couldn’t reach her friends. The stress of the situation compounded, and on the 10th day, she returned to her room with her family with no intention of going back. From then on, the bathroom became the bedroom in case of an attack, and she slept with her mother and two dogs on a futon by the toilet bowl. Her  father was in the hallway.

She said, “Sometimes I would look out the window of our house and see a fighter plane flying very close by. It was scary, because it was so close I thought I could reach it.”

Lyubov volunteered for the regional defense corps. The corps is an organization of civilians under the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, and its mission is to provide security and crack down on suspicious persons.

She said, “I didn’t tell my parents that I was volunteering, because they would have been worried, and since the war started, everyone was under a lot of stress. I volunteered because I wanted to help my country.”


She was able to apply online, typing in her name, date of birth, and other necessary information, and sent it in, but received no response. Apparently the reason was that there were so many applications. She also applied for a blood transfusion at the hospital, but it was not approved because she was taking medication. Still, she was determined to do something for Ukraine, so she donated most of her clothes to a government aid organization. She also spent several hours a day talking to an elderly man who lived in the same apartment.

When we asked her if she was prepared to carry a weapon if something should happen to her, she replied, “Yes, I am prepared to carry a weapon.” 

I still have to protect my country. I am Ukrainian, so I am aware that I have to do something for my country. But I’m weak, so I might get killed first.”


Since the war began, she has also realized something. “When I pass strangers on the street, I  ask others, ‘Are you all right?’ and ‘ How is your family?’”

I’ve come to think that it’s real happiness to feel happy with small things. Just seeing a friend, having a cup of coffee, buying new clothes. Even before the war, I knew this in my head, but I didn’t feel it in my heart. Now I think that is true happiness.”

Ms. Lyubov has always wanted to do something for Ukraine.

During our interview, Ms. Lyubov repeatedly said, “I want to do something for my country.”
  • Interview, photographs, and text by Takehide Mizutani (Nonfiction writer)

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