In a historic speech urgently calling for help to “stop the brutal ‘tsunami’ of Russian invasion”, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed more than 500 Japanese lawmakers directly on Wednesday, March 23.
It was the first time the Diet, Japan’s parliamentary body, had met in public at an online address, and there were concerns about the smooth running of the event.
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Zelenskyy spoke for only 12 minutes, calling on Japanese lawmakers to pressure Russia more with sanctions.
The address was preceded by a brief speech by Hiroyuki Hosoda, Speaker of the House of Representatives, who said, “Our country is determined to stand firmly against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We stand with Ukraine.
The speech was delivered as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida prepared to travel to Europe for the G7 summit in Brussels on March 24.
Following his speech, Kishida said he would consider imposing new sanctions on Russia and increasing humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Japan had pledged $100 million in emergency aid earlier in February.
“Japan has become a leader in Asia”
Zelenskyy began his address by pointing out the similarities between the two seemingly distant countries: “There are about 8,193 kilometers between our two countries, and 15 hours by plane, but there is no difference in the way we perceive freedom.”
The Ukrainian president then thanked Japan for its quick efforts to show support in the face of the Russian invasion, referring to the start of the conflict on February 24.
“I felt this on February 24, when Japan immediately reached out and extended its support. For this, I want to express my deep gratitude,” Zelenskyy said.
Zelenskyy pointed to how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had laid bare “the real situation in the world”. He added that “Japan has become a leader in Asia”, as the first Asian country to join the ranks of countries opposed to Russia’s conduct.
On February 25, Japan quickly joined other G7 countries in imposing sanctions on Russia, including excluding several Russian banks from the SWIFT financial messaging system.
“Russia is planning an attack using nerve gas”
The Ukrainian president stressed the importance of protecting the country’s nuclear power plants, which have been among the first targets since the start of the Russian invasion.
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Zelenskyy recounted the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986, which released a cloud of radiation that spread across much of Europe and left “the 30-kilometer zone around the power plant dangerous nowadays”.
Appealing to the Japanese public, which is sensitive to nuclear dangers, especially after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, Zelenskyy asked:
“How many years will it take, after the end of this war in Ukraine, to understand the environmental destruction that has been caused?”
Bringing the conversation back to the current war in Ukraine, Zelenskyy cited the example of the bombing of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia on March 4. He also cited the example of a besieged chemical plant in Sumy, which reportedly has an ammonia tank. leaked on March 21.
“We have received information that Russia is preparing to attack using sarin (nerve gas) and nuclear weapons, just as it did in [the war in] Syria,” Zelenskyy continued.
In a veiled invitation to think seriously about this threat, he boasted: “Everyone is watching how the world will react if nuclear weapons are used.”
Japanese Prime Minister Kishida comes from Hiroshima. This city is one of only two in the world – with Nagasaki – to have suffered the impact of the atomic bombs.
Coincidentally, March 20, just three days before Zelenskyy’s speech, marked the 27th anniversary of the Tokyo sarin gas attack, a domestic incident that killed 13 people and injured several thousand on the Tokyo subway.
“Thousands of dead among them children”
Zelenskyy painted a vivid picture of the destruction inflicted on Ukraine by this war, on day 28 of the conflict.
“Over 1,000 missiles were fired and many towns were destroyed. When someone is killed, people cannot properly bury their dead. They have to bury them in their front yards or on the side of the road,” he described.
Zelenskyy cited the thousands of dead, “including 121 children”. And the more than nine million people who have been forced to flee their homes.
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“International institutions are dysfunctional”
In a frustrated appeal over the failure of international bodies, Zelenskyy then pointed to the ineffectiveness of international institutions in the conflict, calling on Japan to play a role in changing the status quo.
“As you can see, international institutions are dysfunctional. Institutions such as the United Nations Security Council, they could not protect our security, and we must reform them,” the Ukrainian president said.
Zelenskyy continued, “We need to send a strong message of warning to countries considering military invasion in the future, a strong message that it is imperative not to destroy the peace.
The Ukrainian president also presented a series of concrete demands to Japan.
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First, he asked Japan to consider additional financial measures: “In order to stop this invading ‘tsunami’ in Ukraine, I would like to ask you to consider imposing a trade embargo on Russia, and for all [Japanese] companies to leave the Russian market.
Explaining the motivation for this, he said that any investment in Russia is an “investment in favor of the Russian military”.
Zelenskyy further looked to Japan to help create a “new tool” and framework to facilitate Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction process.
“We need to allow people to return to their hometown. I think people in Japan can relate to that feeling of wanting to go back to your native area where you’re so used to living,” Zelenskyy said.
“I think Japan can play an important role in creating this tool, for the world and for Ukraine, so that there is hope for what the future holds,” he said. -he declares.
“Our hearts are in one place”
Finally, to further appeal to his audience, Zelenskyy sought to show the commonalities between Ukraine and Japan.
“In Ukraine, we love Japanese culture, and it’s not just words. In the history of Japan, the ability to create harmony ー and cultivate it ー is extraordinary,” the Ukrainian president said.
Zelenskyy recalled how, in 2019, shortly after being sworn in as President of Ukraine, his wife Olena took part in an audiobook project for visually impaired children that involved translating a Japanese folk tale into Ukrainian.
“We’re geographically far apart, but our values have a lot in common, so we’re not that far after all,” he said, before adding, “Our hearts are in the same place.”
Zelenskyy concluded his speech with the Japanese expression “Arigatou gozaimasu (thank you very much), glory to Ukraine and glory to Japan.
Following the address, Akiko Santo, Speaker of the House of Councillors, expressed lawmakers’ strong support for the Ukrainian president’s remarks:
“Our hearts are already united with Ukraine. We, members of the National Diet, will do everything possible to bring peace as soon as possible.
Author: Arielle Busetto