Japanese universities, firms scramble to help displaced Ukrainian students

apanese universities are scrambling to raise funds for Ukrainian students taking refuge in Japan following Russia’s protracted invasion of their country, providing financial assistance through crowdfunding and setting them up with support from various companies and groups.

Since many Ukrainian students in Japan struggle to make ends meet, those auditing classes or earning credits face the prospect of being unable to obtain their diplomas due to insufficient funds, despite the assistance they are receiving to cover some of their expenses.

At Meiji University’s Nakano campus in Tokyo, Dana Boieva, 21, and Mariia Chemerys, 20, both earning credits in the School of Global Japanese Studies, listened intently to a lecture in English for their Japanese Social Systems course in July.

Having fled the invasion and traveled to Japan, leaving their families behind, they are working hard on their studies while receiving financial support for their tuition, dormitory fees and some other expenses.

“It’s a great chance for me to get an education that I can’t get now in Ukraine because of the current situation,” said Chemerys.

Since the invasion began last February, Meiji University has accepted seven “credited course students” from Ukraine, but their living expenses and other costs are only partially covered by the various companies and organizations.

According to support groups, many Ukrainians interested in Japanese culture, including anime and manga, have sought refuge in Japan.

As of Aug. 23, 82 national, public and private schools had accepted a total of 371 students from Ukraine, according to the Education Ministry, but about 70 percent of those students have little hope of graduating.

At the International Christian University, five Ukrainian students passed a campus-held exam and are now enrolled as undergraduate and graduate students.

Although the university covers their tuition and dormitory costs, it is estimated that roughly 26 million yen ($175,000) will still be needed in support before they graduate. Since April, about 10.7 million yen has been raised for them through crowdfunding.

“They are not sufficiently funded to cover their expenses, but we want to support all of the students until they graduate,” said an ICU official.

Businesses are also reaching out to provide help. Leading Japanese cosmetic company Shiseido Co. has donated nearly 200 million yen, collected mostly from among its employees, to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Many students who evacuated from the war-torn country with nothing but the clothes on their backs have also been provided with skin care products from the company, free of charge.

Meanwhile, the Japanese subsidiary of German software firm SAP has been providing assistance by covering refugees’ travel and lodging expenses.

The nonprofit Nippon Foundation provides a yearly living allowance of 1 million yen per person for displaced Ukrainians who have a relative or guarantor in Japan. When grant recipients, including students, were asked about their situations, roughly 80 percent said they struggle with everyday conversation in Japanese.

On Sept. 19, the national government, local municipalities and the private sector announced a proposal stating the need to work together to boost educational opportunities in the Japanese language, which will lead to greater economic independence.

“I just want to improve my Japanese skills. I want to work in Japan,” Boieva said.

Norimasa Orii, the representative director of Pathways Japan, an organization that supports refugees, said, “The invasion of Ukraine being prolonged further is inevitable, and we need to responsibly support them until they learn Japanese and become able to work.”

By Dr Muhammad Hussain