Interview with Tokio Kuwamura, Ukraine Support Project
Hello everyone, I am Ishii, the representative of Carrier Inc. Starting from this time. I am going to start this interview with people who are supporting Ukraine. First of all, I live along the Chuo Line, so I would like to introduce myself and focus on what kind of projects you are involved in. Please briefly introduce yourself.
My name is Kuwamura, and I am the director of Sakura Communication Co. My name is Kuwamura. Our company is located in Kodaira, Tokyo. My main business is software development with Ukraine. We ask Ukraine to do work for us in the form of offshore development, and then Ukraine delivers the software to us. This is our main business. In addition to our main business, we also run a volunteer organization called Support Ukraine Japan, which is a voluntary humanitarian aid organization.
As you mentioned earlier, your work has been related to the beginning of the war on February 24.
First of all, I am always in contact with people in my day job, and the 24th of February was a day that had quite an impact on me. The first thing we had to do was to confirm the safety of all the members who were in the area. We did not know what would happen to the project we were currently operating, so the safety confirmation was a kind of primary information. What about the situation in Kiev? I received first-hand information about the situation in Kharkiv and Zaporizhia, which was very real, so I posted it on my personal SNS and received comments and instructions from various people. I posted it on my personal social networking site and received comments and instructions from various people. And then, among them, there was an episode that triggered my activities. A Scandinavian girl who lives in the area told me that her grandmother was left behind in a warehouse. She had no car or driver’s license, and she wanted to escape. I thought, “Ah, there is a need for this kind of support,” and that’s when I got the idea that we could somehow provide support even if it is online.
That’s right. Well, three months have passed since then, and I can imagine that it must have been very difficult for you to focus your efforts in this way, but I am sure that there were things you were able to do online and things you were not able to do, and there were also things that made you feel frustrated. What were the things you were able to do online and what were you not able to do?
Yes, what we started online at the beginning of February was simply ride-sharing. On the one hand, I can’t go there and drive, and on the other hand, in Ukraine, men can’t leave the country, yes. On the other hand, there are people who cannot leave the country, but they are wondering how they can contribute to the country. There were quite a lot of them. However, we felt that it was still too early to go to war, so we decided to help those people to leave the country and contribute to the country. Yes, we did. We would find drivers and evacuate grandmothers, women, and children out of the country. We tried to do this. It didn’t go well at all. Yes, that was the situation at the beginning of February. It is very dangerous to drive a car in Ukraine, and the fact that we were going to do this as a project in itself put them in danger, so yes. So, it is not easy for the local people to move. And also from the Japanese side. So, in fact, the project did not go very well. However, as the people fled the country, we exchanged information with them on a daily basis, telling them that Kiev is now relatively safe and that they can now take the train. The local people were very happy to hear that. So, although we were not able to provide ridesharing services, we were able to provide emotional support to the local people. Another issue that arose afterwards was that there were many people in Ukraine who had evacuated to the west. In short, even with the border crossing line, there was a big problem in the relatively safe western part of the country: there were not enough accommodations. Even if there were, the prices of private accommodations and hotels had risen to the level of $100 per night or so. Ukraine is not a rich country, so the cost of living is low. For them, compared to us in Japan, it is a very large amount of money. We were wondering if we could match them with accommodations. However, there were various problems with this as well: some people in Ukraine were trustworthy and others were not. So what we did was to connect a network of friends. For example, if you are a friend of Tokio’s, we can lend you a room. I can go to your house. So, in March, we started this kind of activity of arranging accommodations.
Yes, that’s right. Well, I am not disclosing my personal information, but when the civil war broke out in Myanmar, I provided some assistance in my own way, and of course the situation was completely different from this time. I felt that the situation was really changing from moment to moment, so what I was working on last week may have become a priority this week, but how did you respond to the changing situation itself? How did you respond to such changes in the situation itself?
You are absolutely right. As in the business world, it is important to find out what the needs are. This is something we should not ignore. It often happens that when we, as Japanese, suggest that something like this can be done, it is already too late. We have decided to hold online meetings every week. We hold online meetings every week to get the latest information on the local situation. This is one of the activities we have introduced, and are still continuing. We have introduced this kind of activity, and we are still continuing to do so, but now we have clearly decided what we will do in March and April. So, in a strange way, we can do many things if we have enough money, but donations are the only thing. However, what we have considered is not temporary money, but a system to earn money on a continuous and stable basis and to create jobs. We thought it was necessary to provide job opportunities. We say “support for self-reliance,” but as of May, we are focusing our activities on the creation of employment.
I understand. Well, yes, that’s right. I don’t think it can be said that the war has settled down, but the situation has changed considerably from when we started the project. How many people are in Japan now?
A little over 2,000. Yes, as of yesterday. As of yesterday.
I am gradually receiving information from my overseas friends, but what are the challenges? Do you have a place to live in Tokyo? What kind of work do you do in the future?
What are the challenges? First of all, there are so many issues. I am focusing on job creation, but I have heard from evacuees that there are many challenges. I am sure there are various issues, and I think that both the Japanese government and the local governments need to address these issues. First of all, the Japanese government and the local governments are also involved. It seems that the Japanese government and local governments are doing a good job of arranging housing for the displaced people. However, the only problem is…. However, the speed of the process and the level of attention to detail are not as good as I would like. So, as is the case on the Web, voluntary organizations and individuals like us are still able to provide places for people to stay. The first step is to provide a place to stay. People are often involved in this kind of matching. As a matter of fact, I have received inquiries from one or two households. First of all, they often ask if there is a place where they can stay in their temporary housing. Yes.
What kind of people are in the situation that cannot be matched, or are trying to be matched? There are people in the administration, but they are not matching up fast enough.
Yes, that’s right. I guess it depends on the structure of each municipality. Yes, I have heard that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is relatively fast. For example, in other regional cities, even if the island cannot handle the issue, they escalate the matter to the national government.
Yes, it really depends on the region. If I were to say, for example, that I am going to a country I have never been to before, it would be a similar situation. For example, I have never been to Sri Lanka, but when I talk about where to go in Sri Lanka, I only know the capital or the areas other than the capital. I wonder if Ukrainians come to Sri Lanka without knowing where to go.
First of all, the people who are closest to Japan are those who have good connections. For example, those who have family living in Japan or those who first came to Japan. I have the impression that they are scattered all over Japan. Yes, they are not concentrated in Tokyo, but in various areas. The latter is the case of those who come here alone and without relatives. I get the impression that most of them live in Tokyo. Yes, it is the largest city in Japan and has a large population. It is good that they came to Tokyo, but they also have to worry about where to stop, work, and living expenses. I think everyone is having a hard time with this. Yes, everyone is trying to apply for living expenses from the government. Yes, everyone is doing so, but I have not heard of many cases where the money has actually been received. Everyone is still waiting for the money, but everyone has savings. As I mentioned earlier, the cost of living in Japan is different from that of other countries. For example, in Ukraine, the cost of food for a month is about $100-$200, which is enough to eat for a month. Although things may have changed a bit, I think it takes a lot of ingenuity to make ends meet on 10,000 yen to 20,000 yen per month in Japan. Especially in Tokyo, I think it is quite difficult. So, although you say you have run out of money, you still have to look for a job. In order to find a job, you have to learn the Japanese language. There is a free Japanese language course, but the train fare to and from the school is a burden. Therefore, I think everyone is having a very hard time. Yes.
That’s right. I have researched as much as I could about the Nippon Foundation. I think that the Nippon Foundation is a very good organization. I heard that if you apply in proper form, they can do some emergency work for you, but what about that? Actually, of course. I think that it is not possible for everyone to apply, and I am sure that there are screening criteria for major companies, but there are quite a lot of people who have been helped.
I see. I think that everyone in Ukraine is aware of the Nippon Foundation’s applications. When I tell them that this kind of program is available, many of them have applied for it. At least in my circle. I have not heard of any payment yet, so I guess it will take some time. Yes, I think it will take a long time.
Oh, that’s changed. So, what you are doing in your hometown is employment support, and what kind of work are you suited for? What kind of work did you do in your home country, did you work overseas or not, or did you do physical work or digital work?
So, you know.
I’m sure there are some people who would like to hear about it, but what kind of job matching or employment support is there out there?
I see. I think this is a very good system. Yes, I think it is a very good system. Of course, there are many Ukrainians who have various occupations and special skills. For example, one of my clients is a ballet dancer. For example, one of my evacuees is a ballet dancer. Professional, yes, special skills, right? They are professional dancers with special skills. If possible, I would like to continue to do this work, which I have been doing for a long time in my life. Yes, but there are also language barriers, and there are many companies in Japan that will accept them, but it depends on whether or not they are able to accept them immediately. For example, if you want to work as a first-class performer. Even if you want to work as a first-class ballet performer, you need to have a professional’s attention. Yes, in Japan as well. Japan is also a country with a very high level of ballet. So, for example, if you can work as a charity, you can be employed for a short period of time, but after that, it depends on the level of the person. For example, in their case, they can no longer be a professional performer, but they want to become a teacher as a second step. If they want to become a teacher, they need to be able to speak Japanese. If you can’t do this, there is another way. It is easy. It is a job that does not require much training. There are many such jobs in Japan. There are many such jobs in Japan, so it is very frustrating not to be able to make use of the experience you have accumulated up to now. Yes, that is true.
As I said, until last year, we were also in the so-called “recruiting business,” so it is true what they say, “Everyone is different,” and the right job is the one for which 20 people have applied. I hope they will be happy, but there are usually 10 of them. Or, it is necessary.
You are right. For example, in Japan, we are talking about the nursing care business. We are often approached by business owners. In our industry, there is a labor shortage. We have a shortage of labor, so we ask them, “How about an annual salary of this amount? I am not so particular about my Japanese language ability, so I am also interested in hotel cleaning. For example, changing beds for surgery, which is typical. I think there are jobs that do not require language skills and are relatively easy to do, such as primary industry or agriculture. I would like to talk a little bit about my activities, but I think it is possible to utilize their skills and take pride in their own culture. As one of the jobs, I focused on food culture. I have been thinking about the possibility of having Ukrainians working in restaurants, and that is why I have started this program. Yes, I would like to talk a little about our activities for existing Ukrainian residents. However, the cost of opening a restaurant requires at least 10 or 30 million yen in bank loans, which is a very high hurdle to overcome. So, I decided to ask existing Japanese restaurants to hire Ukrainians, and we would support them as a support group. We have created this model.
We would give the restaurants some kind of support money and ask them to make do with it. Of course, the hourly wage will be paid to the restaurants, but will they be able to make a living by making Ukrainian food, or will they be able to make a living by making Mediterranean food?
Well, that is what we are doing. Yes, restaurants also hire Ukrainians. Ideally, we would like to be able to generate sales and profits and attract customers over the long term. To put it simply, I think the ideal situation is to be able to say, “Yes, even if our support were not available, there would be no problem at all. Yes, and then, I would like to explain the first step. First of all. I think restaurant managers are also very cautious. In fact, there are many cases where restaurant owners have tried to hire but cannot afford the labor costs because they only have one or two staff members. That is why we are here. So, we have an idea to subsidize the labor costs of hiring Ukrainian workers, and we raise money through crowdfunding. We are raising money through crowdfunding or other means. So, for example, we would like to offer a limited period of time for the first time, and then we would like to try it out for three months. If it goes well, we will try it for three months, and if it goes well, we will try it for the fourth month and onward. If this works out well, then after the fourth month, we will continue the program according to the wishes of the management or the Ukrainians themselves. Ideally, we would like to continue with the program, and if it does not work out, then yes. If it doesn’t work out, we will have to do it differently. This is how we started. Yes, I understand.
I understand. Yes, that’s right. I think we’ve heard an overview today, so let’s look forward to the next time. Well, I would like to talk about the future prospects, including the event that was held yesterday. I would like to talk about the second half of the episode. This time, I would like to talk about the launch. You really started up on February 20, didn’t you? I heard that you spent a very difficult 3 months, conducted various experiments, and are now doing some work, so I think it was very meaningful. Thank you very much. Well, I will eat it next time. I hope we can have five kinds again. Thank you very much. Thank you very much.