Approximately 60% of the population of the Kuril Islands are Ukrainians whom the Soviet government forcibly moved to the archipelago after the occupation of the Japanese territory in 1945. Yoshihiko Okabe, a professor at Kobe Gakuin University in Japan and foreign expert at the Ukrainian Center for Russian Studies, made this statement at the international conference "Russia's Violation of International Law: Implications for Peace".
"Although it is little known, it is said that in fact around 60% of the present inhabitants of the Northern Isles (Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai) are Ukrainians. Indeed, during my visit there were many people with surnames ending with ‘-chenko’," Okabe said.
He also said that, according to Japanese who had previously lived on the island of Iturup, workers from Ukraine were resettled on the island approximately one year after the Soviet occupation.
"They lived much poorer than the Japanese under the Soviet occupation; they did not even have clothes, and some women [did not even have] undergarments. This tragic story is hardly widely known in Ukraine, "he said.
At the same time, Okabe urged Ukrainians not to call the islands, which Japan claims as its Northern territories, by the Russian name "Southern Kuriles".
"To call the islands ‘Southern Kuriles’ means to recognize these islands as Russia's territory. I think that by calling them the ‘Northern Territory of Japan,’ we will be able to attract world attention to the fact that this Japanese territory was illegally occupied by Russia, "he stressed.