For Kateryna Gudzii, the traditional Ukrainian instrument she plays has been her way of sharing her homeland’s culture and music with Japan – and this decade-plus personal mission takes on deeper meaning now than Ukraine is in the global spotlight after the Russian invasion.
“When I perform, I do so thinking that the war will end and there will be peace in the world,” said Gudzii, who is just one of two bandura players who actively perform. in Japan where she started living in 2006.
The 35-year-old, who goes by the name Kateryna and lives in Yokohama, near Tokyo, said the 65-string bandura, which dates back to the 12th century and is traditionally played by blind performers, is a “unique musical instrument like no other and one that is linked to the culture, tradition and ethnicity of Ukraine.”
Kateryna Gudzii poses with the traditional Ukrainian “bandura” instrument she plays in a photo taken in Tokyo on February 28, 2022. (Kyodo)
Music is deeply rooted in the Ukrainian way of life and Gudzii has been immersed in it since childhood. She was born in Pripyat, a town about 2.5 kilometers from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in March 1986, a month before a reactor at the plant exploded in what would become one of the world’s worst accidents. nuclear in the world.
She has no memory of Pripyat, which existed for factory workers and their families and is now a ghost town, as she and her family had to move to Kiev after the accident. For now, her 68-year-old mother is staying in the capital in dedicated accommodation for Chernobyl evacuees.
A music teacher who also evacuated later formed a musical group for children affected by the accident. Gudzii joined the group when he was 6 years old, and through this group first came to Japan in 1996 for staged shows across the country.
Now solo, she makes it a point to introduce Ukrainian culture to her audience.
“There are similarities with Russia, but Russia has its own culture and Ukraine has its own culture, and it’s been that way for a long time,” she said.
The bandura has a sad history, Gudzii said, citing an incident in which around 300 bandura players were reportedly killed and their instruments destroyed when Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin tried to deny global exposure to Ukrainian culture.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who defied international warnings and invaded neighboring Ukraine in late February, believes Russians and Ukrainians are “one people”.
As the attacks and fighting continue alongside diplomatic negotiations and the establishment of humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians, there appear to be no clear and immediate signs of an imminent breakthrough in the crisis.
Gudzii thinks every day of her mother who lives alone in Kiev. “I contact her every hour and talk to her as much as possible” to allay her fears, said the youngest of four daughters.
In their last chat before the weekend, she sought to cheer up her mum, who sounded “emotionally tired”. The bandurist talked about how people in Japan think of his mother and also plans to bring her to Japan one day.
Initially, his mother did not think of evacuating from Kiev because she had “never imagined that a full-scale war would break out”.
But tensions have since escalated as Russian forces continue their advance.
Gudzii said she knew she only had limited power, but was determined to do her part as a Ukrainian interpreter for Japanese television to “convey the latest information about Ukraine. “.
While juggling this work, she continues to prepare for upcoming performances in Japan, one of which will take place on the eve of March 11 to commemorate the massive earthquake-tsunami disaster and nuclear accident in Fukushima. that hit northeast Japan.
In recent years, she has performed with the 2011 disaster in mind, but for this year, she says, her performance would also be a prayer for peace in light of the Ukraine crisis.
In a similar deal to the challenges facing children in Fukushima, she was also discriminated against as someone born near Chernobyl, where the accident was rated 7 on the international nuclear crisis scale, the note said. higher and on par with Fukushima.
“Some didn’t play with me or touch me for fear of getting radiation if they did,” she recalls. His father died about 10 years ago from cancer caused by radiation related to his work related to the Chernobyl power plant.
As a bandurist in Japan, she reached a wider audience by performing and singing along to the tunes of traditional Japanese songs such as “Furusato” (Hometown).
Before the Russian attacks took place, she planned to bring people to Ukraine.
But the coronavirus pandemic has deterred his planned tour of the Eastern European country. Today, the invasion has made his dream even more distant, with the deaths Ukraine says already numbering in the thousands, including its civilians, as well as the destruction of vital infrastructure, making travel impossible.
Gudzii had hoped to bring her mother to Japan, but that too fell through due to COVID-19.
“I wish I could bring him here. Until I have him by my side, I don’t think I’ll feel comfortable,” she said.