Ukrainian manga artist reframes life in time of war

Ukrainian manga artist reframes life in time of war

When Russian troops began shelling Ukraine, a young manga artist decided to use her talents to show what daily life was like. Her work has caught the eye of manga fans worldwide, including a publisher in Japan.

Akari Sayaka started posting her manga online at the end of February, just days after the Russian invasion began.

“Even if there is a war, I think it’s better to have something to do,” the 16-year-old Ukrainian told NHK.

Akari is both the pen name of the cartoonist and the name of the character she draws. The comic is based on her own life. Sometimes that means responding to an air raid alarm. Other times, it means fixing her hair or shopping online.

Akari means ‘bright’ in Japanese. The artist says she hopes her stories will radiate a little happiness in troubled times: “I want to send joy to many readers.”

The young manga artist at work after school. She also loves to read manga and watch animation.

A different view of the invasion

Making people smile in the middle of a war is no easy task. When Russia invaded, some of her drawings changed dramatically. Her manga self was suddenly rushing to air raid shelters and building barricades in the house — just like in her real life.

But she also wanted to share stories that aren’t seen in the news — snapshots of ordinary people trying to maintain some sense of normality in the shadow of death and destruction.

“I think during such unpleasant events, we don’t always need to focus on the problem,” she says. “We can try to distract ourselves.”

Support from Japan

Akari’s dream is to work as a manga artist in Japan. Last summer, she sent some of her creations to a manga publisher in Tokyo. Editorial staff responded by offering advice and helped her improve her skills.

After the invasion, the editing team decided to translate Akari’s manga into Japanese.

“The manga woke me up”, says Kawada Yojiro, head of the team. “It made me realize daily life is possible even in a time of war. And I thought that was something our readers should know.” He says his team has decided to support Akari’s ambition to become a manga artist in Japan.

In June, his company BookLive started offering the translated manga as an e-book. The proceeds — minus publishing expenses — will go to the UN Refugee Agency to help people from Ukraine.

Akari says seeing her work published in Japan is “a special opportunity, and a dream come true.”

“Akari-chan Life in Ukraine” by Ukrainian manga artist Akari Sayaka was e-published in June.

Akari says she hopes Ukrainians can soon get back to life without the intrusion of war, but in the meantime she’s happy if her work can bring some relief. “I think it’s very important to make people smile because it helps them not to give up.”


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