Zelenskyy's address to Japan's lawmakers crafted for maximum effect Zelenskyy's address to Japan's lawmakers crafted for maximum effect
Backstories

Zelenskyy's address to Japan's lawmakers crafted for maximum effect

    NHK World
    Senior Commentator
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has a way with words. Online addresses he has made to lawmakers around the world have all been tailor-made. He spoke of Churchill in the British Parliament, 9/11 in the US Congress, and the Berlin Wall in Germany's Bundestag. Appearing on-screen in Japan's Diet last week, he raised the specter of something his audience knows very well: nuclear disaster.

    "For the first time, as president of Ukraine, I'm very honored to address you in your Diet," said Zelenskyy before expressing gratitude for Japan's quick response to the Russian invasion.

    "Our capitals are separated by 8,193 kilometers, and they are a 15-hour flight apart, but there's no gap between our feelings. We long for liberty and freedom, and our desire to live is the same. We feel that on February 24, Japan immediately sent support to us, and we appreciate it very much."

    Lawmakers in Tokyo were quick to impose sanctions on Russia in tandem with other nations. This wasn't lost on Zelenskyy, but he also called for more.

    "Japan has become an Asian leader in the work to stop the war. Japan has started working to revive Ukraine. This is important not only for Ukraine, but for the world. Japan was the first country in Asia to really put pressure on Russia to restore peace, and which supported sanctions. I urge you to continue."

    PM Kishida and FM Hayashi
    Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa (left) and Prime Minister Kishida Fumio (right) listen to the Ukrainian president addressing the Diet on March 23, 2022.

    Words evoke painful memories

    Northeastern Japan suffered a massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in March 2011, something Zelenskyy referenced.

    "To stop the Russian tsunami, Japan must ban trade with Russia. And Japanese companies need to withdraw from Russia," he said.

    Russian troops have taken control of two nuclear plants in Ukraine: Zaporizhzhia, which is one of Europe's largest, and Chornobyl, crippled for decades. The Ukrainian leader described the situation at length to Japan's lawmakers.

    "There was a major accident at the Chornobyl plant in 1986. Radioactive substances are still dangerous for 30 kilometers around it, and a lot of debris, machinery and materials have been buried in the soil ever since. On February 24, a Russian armored vehicle stirred up those radioactive substances."

    He continued by saying Russia has turned a facility for processing nuclear materials into a battlefield. "It will take decades after this war to investigate how much environmental damage has been caused. Ukraine has four active nuclear plants and 15 reactors, all of which are in a very dangerous situation."

    The Ukrainian leader also said he has received reports that Russia is preparing to use sarin gas – used in 1995 by the Aum Shinrikyo cult during an attack on the Tokyo subway in which 14 people died.

    And he wrapped up his speech by saying thanks in the language of his audience.

    "Ukrainians love Japanese culture. We have common values, despite the distance. I hope Japan will be with Ukraine in the future, just as it is now. Arigato gozaimasu. Glory to Ukraine! Glory to Japan!"

    Watch the speech in full: 12:34

    Lawmakers laud address

    Zelenskyy drew a standing ovation from the about 500 lawmakers who attended.

    "I was impressed by the president's determined and courageous efforts to protect the people of Ukraine," said Prime Minister Kisihida Fumio. "We will consider further sanctions against Russia, and more humanitarian aid, in addition to the 100 million dollars we have pledged so far."

    Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa was also full of praise. "We, as people who have experienced a nuclear disaster in Fukushima, would like to say that an attack on nuclear plants is outrageous. The president spoke earnestly about the feelings of the Ukrainian people, who want to return home."

    lawmakers applause
    Japanese lawmakers give a standing ovation for the Ukrainian President speaking online, on March 23, 2022.

    Zelenskyy's impassioned and evocative speech was carefully designed to resonate in Japan. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the only two cities in the world to have been attacked by atomic bombs, and the effects of the disaster in Fukushima are still being felt today.

    Ultimately, the Ukrainian leader's words will foster solidarity between the people of Japan and Ukraine.