After covering a distance of more than 8,000 km, a 37-year-old Japanese man named Koichi Kuwabara arrived in Kyiv to support Ukrainians in the struggle for independence.

YouTuber Kuwabara has been running a free hugs campaign around the world since 2011. Last year, he published an autobiographical book about his childhood and his decision to travel the world giving people hugs. The concept of his blog is to involve society in socio-political problems and by covering them. Kuwabara hopes to attract the help of as many people as possible.

In the center of Independence Square, he organized an action to demonstrate his concern for the residents of Ukraine through “Hugs for Peace.” The guy stands with a sign and anyone can hug him. Kuwabara then posts it on his YouTube and Instagram blogs. From there he seeks to attract a large audience to highlight the problem of the war in Ukraine.

Photo: Eva Beifong

The activist decided to come to Ukraine a month ago after talking with a Ukrainian refugee who came to Japan. Then Kuwabara realized that the war in Ukraine was much more serious than can be seen on Japanese television.

“I am not brave enough to join the army, and also cannot support Ukrainians with money.” However, in these difficult times, he came to hug and say, “I’m with you.” Therefore, the guy undertook a long and difficult journey from Tokyo to Doha, Qatar, from there to Warsaw, and finally to Kyiv where he will live until September 26 as a couchsurfing-friend.

“Sure, the flight ticket from Japan was quite expensive but I thought what Ukraine needs the most right now is not the money I paid for one flight ticket but much attention from many people –  and it might lead to bigger donation,” explained Kuwabara.

Every day after four o’clock in the evening, he stands with his sign on Khreshchatyk Street, giving hugs to everyone. He has also visited Irpin and Bucha to see firsthand the destruction inflicted by the Russian invaders. The rest of the time, he studies the local culture, communicating with Ukrainians and walking through the streets of Kyiv.


While in Japan, Kuwabara says that together with friends, he made donations to foundations that help Ukrainian refugees in Japan. He notes that he would like to help Ukrainians in many destroyed cities, but he does not have the opportunity due to his limited stay in Kyiv.

“I tried to find the best way to support a whole Ukraine while staying in Kyiv. Then I thought if I could attract a lot of attention from Japanese people by doing free hugs and making a video about it, then let them support Ukraine. It might be the best way. It’s just better than only me doing support,” he emphasizes.

However, he says that he is not an influential enough person to open his own donation fund to Ukrainians and the needs of the Ukrainian army.

“So even if I created a donation fund, I could not be of any help but I thought I might make Japanese people look at Ukraine directly by doing something different. I mean free hugs because that’s the only thing I’m good at,” Kuwabara  reasoned.

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