The struggles of Ukrainian students determined to continue studying Japanese despite death and destruction in their country were described during an online press conference in Tokyo.

Iryna Shepelska, a professor of Japanese at Kyiv National Linguistic University, spoke at the April 1 press conference from Germany, where she had taken refuge after the Russian invasion.

With tears in her eyes, Shepelska appealed to her Japanese counterparts: “Please give our students opportunities.”

Japanese schools have indeed answered the call.

Some invite Ukrainian students to study for free on their campuses in Japan. Others are expanding their online courses for students from the Eastern European nation.

Many are appealing for donations from the public to help defray expenses.

A rapidly expanding program was announced at the April 1 press conference by the International Christian University of Mitaka in western Tokyo.

The school will provide airfare, free tuition and living expenses, and stays in a student dormitory for a few undergraduate students from Ukraine.

“We hope to provide opportunities and a reassuring environment for students facing difficult circumstances so that they can experience the joy of life,” ICU President Shoichiro Iwakiri said at a press conference.

The ICU will work with Pathways Japan (PJ), an incorporated general foundation headed by Norimasa Orii that provides assistance to refugees, and the Japan ICU Foundation.

The ICU program will be available to five undergraduate students at Ukrainian universities who have studied or are studying Japanese and are proficient in Japanese or English.

After the offer was announced online and through other means, at least 47 students had applied by April 2.

Several other universities have offered to join the ICU program to accommodate additional Ukrainian students.

Eleven Japanese language schools have also mobilized, with the aim of welcoming around a hundred students. More than 200 Ukrainian students have applied, officials said.

Ihor Zorii, director of the Ukrainian-Japanese Center at Lviv National Polytechnic University, joined the press conference from the Ukrainian city of Lviv.

He said air raid sirens were forcing students to interrupt their online studies and seek refuge in evacuation shelters.

But they don’t study there because they don’t want to disturb others, he said.

The University of Economics of Japan, under a separate program, hosts Ukrainian students from Kyiv National Linguistic University and Lviv Polytechnic.

The JUE, based in Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture, had concluded agreements with the two Ukrainian universities and was already exchanging students with them.

Seventy-two Ukrainian students arrived in Japan ahead of the start of classes on April 7 for the new academic year, JUE officials said. Students will be accommodated in a dormitory.

The university has set up a donation fund so that it can cover all tuition fees and living expenses for Ukrainians until March next year.

The Graduate University of Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology is also appealing for donations to help scientists and students fleeing the Russian invasion. It has also started procedures to host Ukrainian scholars, university officials said.

More than half of the university’s professors and students come from abroad. It already had a Ukrainian student and Ukrainian staff members before the Russian invasion began.

Officials said the university would draw on the donation fund when it welcomes scientists and students and helps Ukraine rebuild its scientific and academic institutions.


A Ukrainian employee of Yamanashi University attends a press conference in Kofu on March 24. (Katsumi Mitsugi)

Yamanashi University offers online courses for Ukrainian students who cannot attend classes due to the Russian attack.

The Kofu-based university employs a staff member who graduated from the National Aerospace University of Ukraine, also known as the Kharkiv Aviation Institute.

This connection has led the Japanese university to offer courses in 13 subjects, including artificial intelligence and the aquatic environment, to students in master’s programs at 12 universities in Kharkiv.

The program will use English teaching materials that have been prepared for international students who have not been able to come to Japan due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

University officials said they would send identification and other access information to Ukrainian students listed as program participants.

“One of the missions of educators is to make us available to students who want to study,” Yamanashi University President Shinji Shimada said. “I hope universities in Japan will follow in our footsteps.”

The Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (TUFS) will offer online Japanese lessons to Ukrainian university students from late May to September.

The serial lessons will take place on Friday morning and evening each week as part of the TUFS Open Academy, an extension program primarily used by working adults.

The 34,000 yen ($277) fee will be waived.

Eligible students will be able to take the course from Ukraine or a third country. A special class could be created if many more students apply, TUFS officials said.

TUFS is also considering a plan to allow Ukrainian students to take regular classes at the university, the officials added.

The University of Tokyo temporarily accommodates students and researchers of all nationalities who have been forced to suspend their activities due to the Russian invasion. They can follow special programs made available by the university’s doctoral schools and other research units.

They will also be entitled to Japanese lessons and advice.

The university plans to cover their travel expenses and provide them with around 80,000 yen per month in living expenses for one year.

She has set up a fund and is appealing for donations, saying the university alone cannot cover all the necessary expenses.

(This article was written by Hajime Ueno and lead writer Fumio Masutani.)