Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bandura player/singer (She’s been in Japan since Dec.2006)
We interviewed a foreign musician in Tokyo for the first time in ages – introducing Kateryna from Ukraine.
A friend of ours took us to a piano concert. She knows that we’ve been interviewing foreigners so she provided us the chance to meet Kateryna.
It consisted of two parts and she performed in the beginning of the second part. A woman in a colorful costume beautifully plucked an Ukrainian instrument called “Bandura“, which has dozens of strings, and began to sing. Her singing voice was really beautiful, which can’t be expressed by well-worn cliches like “clear” “beautiful” or “angel’s voice”.
After the show, we asked her if we would be able to interview her. She kindly agreed to our request. One morning we confronted a diva who walked off the stage in person and learned as an astonishing fact.
Born in Chernobyl
The place where I was born in is located about 3.5 kilometers from the Chernobyl nuclear plant. When the nuclear meltdown occurred, I was only a month old. So I have only a small recollection of it. What I’m telling you is a story that my family told me.
A couple of days after the accident, my family went to my parents’ hometown for safety. I think it’s located hundreds of kilometers from Chernobyl. The Kremlin issued evacuation calls over the radio. They ordered us to evacuate for three days with our treasures. Residents moved across Ukraine by chartered buses. Later my hometown became off limits.
We rent an apartment and lived there. We didn’t live in my parents’ home. I’m the youngest of four daughters so there were six members in my family. Also my mom is the oldest of four sisters and they lived with their grandparents. So we, a kind of big family, couldn’t intrude into their home.
Then we moved from area to area and settled in Kiev. There were temporary housings for evacuees and we began to live there.
“Ave Maria”（Vladimir Vavilov wrote it under anonymous）
I began my music career at the age of six when I was living in Kiev. Where we lived in in Kiev was a community which was made for the Chernobyl evacuees. Many people from my hometown were also settled there and there was a woman who used to organize a small music group in my home.
She reorganized a music group which consisted of kids who were interested in singing and dancing in the new place. I’ve loved music since I was a little girl, so I auditioned for it. Its name was “Chervona Kalyna” (“Red Viburnum“) and they wanted to have concerts, so they gave an audition in order to recruit children that pass a preset level. I passed the audition and joined them.
Also I loved piano. I began composing songs for piano when I was three. There was a piano at the house where I was born, but we left it when we evacuated. My parents bought a new one in Kiev when they decided to settle there.
A friend of my mom’s was a music teacher. I wanted to improve my singing and piano techniques so I hassled my mom to let me meet her. I told her that I wanted to learn singing and playing the piano more. She said, “Many people play the piano. Many people sing songs. But how about bandura? You can play bandura and sing. Also you can take piano lessons if you learn bandura. You cannot learn piano without taking lessons in bandura.” I wanted to learn the piano, so I entered a school which she was teaching at.
Performing in Japan
Of course I went to an elementary school. At the same time, I attended a music school and learned a lot; bandura classes twice a week, piano once a week, music theory once a week, music history once a week, and I learned direction and singing there.
Also I was involved in the “Chervona Kalyna”. I studied music at a school and enjoyed it at Chervona Kalyna. Eventually the musical skills of Chervona Kalyna members improved, so they planned to have a concert in Kiev. We wanted to show people that the evacuees from Chernobyl could sing and dance lustily.
Many country such as Germany and Czech supported Chernobyl evacuees. We were invited to Germany by a German guy who came and saw our concert in Kiev. I went to Germany at the age of seven. I went there 3 or 4 times and sometimes played a child’s bandura.
Japan supported us, too. Ryuichi Hirokawa, a Japanese photo journalist, invited us to Japan. There was no nuclear accident yet, but they had experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki so I guess they felt very close to us. Mr. Hirokawa invited us to Japan and we went on a concert tour here. That was my first trip to Japan, it was in 1996 when I was 10.
I got interested in Japan on my second visit when I was 12.
I wished to do my music activities here because I felt people’s kindness and tenderness while we were traveling around Japan. They treated us kindly and tried to communicate with us heartily. That was really impressive for me. They gave us handcrafted things such as paper cranes that were made by local people lovingly and politely. Those are still in my home in Kiev.
Later I went back and forth between Japan and Ukraine many times. I was in danger of not being able to graduate from a music academy because of my activities. I managed to graduate and was invited to Japan by my sister (Nataliya Gudziy) who had already started her music career in Japan, I started living here in December 2006.
Suffered the earthquake in water
March 11, 2011 – At the moment of the Great East Japan Earthquake, I was at a pool near my house with my son. He started learning swimming when he was six months old and he was 1 1/2 years old at that time. He and I were smack in the midst of a pool when the quake occurred.
On that day, I felt mildly ill so I almost gave up going to a pool. But I’d already told my fellow moms that I would go there on that day, and some of them told me that they would go there with me for the first time in weeks if I would go.
I arrived there about 40 minutes earlier than usual. We had time so changed into swimwear slowly. Then I remembered a swimming school staff suggested we fold our cloths in case of an earthquake. I remembered it suddenly. It was around 1:45PM.
An hour later – at 2:46PM – “I feel the earth shake. Teacher, is this an earthquake?” I said. But a teacher answered, “Is that so?”. Then the strong jolt came. A pool was surrounded by glass windows and its ceiling was also made by glass. My son and I couldn’t get out of a pool because of the earthquake. We stepped forward slowly in the water.
We got to the poolside and waited holding on to the railing until the quake stopped. Then we went to a locker room with him. If I was not with my son, I could get out of the building in bathing attire. But I couldn’t do that with my son. I dried his body and got him changed, then finally we went outside. I took my fellow moms to my condo and stayed until their husbands returned to their houses. My condo is a second-floor unit but theirs are on the upper floors where you feel quakes stronger. And I would have felt scared if my friends were not with us, so I wanted to be with them. Moreover one of them was a Moldovan who can’t understand Japanese at all, so she needed to be with us.
My husband walked all the way down to my house from his working place. He got to us at around 1AM.
Second nuclear accident in my life
My parents took my sisters and me to the place where was far from Chernobyl. They protected their children from the radiation. Later I started a new life in Japan when I was 20, which means I came free from Chernobyl at last. “Finally I found an asylum” I thought so, but the same accident occurred here in Japan. Now I have to protect my son from the effects of radiation in the same way as my parents did for their daughters.
Actually my mom told me, “Move to somewhere far away” “Return to Ukraine”. But I thought – I escaped Chernobyl, got to Japan and the same accident occurred. Nobody can say that you’ll never have such an accident if you go far from Japan. Nobody is sure and I didn’t want to think about that. I mean there’s no place to take refuge.
Moreover, I have my family here. My husband is from Osaka, western Japan, but he made his livelihood in Tokyo and he’s working here, so he cannot move anywhere else. I told our circumstances to my mom and she said, “I understand. Decide what you are going to do by yourself”.
The amount of radiation in my area is not so high and water is clean. So I can live there with my son. But we’ll take steps if things reach a serious stage and my husband agrees.
My activities have nothing to do with nuclear accident
Let me rewind a little. When I performed with my older sister in Japan in 2004, my dad also was up on stage. Because he used to work at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
He didn’t work at the hypocenter, but he was in the premises. In the second part of the concert, he described his Chernobyl experience through an interpreter with the Chernobyl films for 30 or 40 minutes. He did it throughout Japan. Also my sister performed in Japan with the support of the group called “Chernobyl Children’s Fund, Japan“. She volunteered to perform in Japan and raised money at venues.
She has been publicizing the dangers of nuclear power generation by telling people her Chernobyl experience after the Fukushima accidents. She will continue it.
As for me, I’ve been performing as a pure musician since I started my solo career. That’s why I don’t want to associate my activities with the anti-nuclear movement. I never tell my audiences about Chernobyl. My sister remembers what happened to her when Chernobyl accident occurred because she was 6 at that time. But I don’t remember it at all, so I don’t have anything to deliver. Even if I tell stories that I heard from my family or neighbors, those are not my experiences. So my message won’t come across to the audiences.
Also I would interfere with my sister’s activities if I do the same things as she does. Another thing I don’t like is to build my career by using my sister’s influence.
I want to live my life as a musician. To sing for people who suffered from the earthquake. That’s my mission, I think.
“Mirai e (To the Future)” Written by Kiroro *cover
What is Japan to you?
A second home.
I’ve lost my hometown because of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Instead, Kiev became my hometown because we lived there with my parents and sisters for a long time.
But now I’m living in Japan with my family – my husband and son. It means that here is my home now. I’ll live here with them from now on. I want to be with them when I end my life and even after that.
Japan is my home now.
Her official website (Japanese): http://www.kateryna-music.jp/