Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s last-minute participation Sunday in the Group of Seven summit has brought intense global attention to Russia's invasion of his nation. But it has also worried atomic bomb survivors who said the high-profile visit overshadowed a rare chance to push world leaders to focus on nuclear abolishment.
Zelenskyy’s inclusion at the G7 gathering of rich-world democracies — and his pursuit of more weapons and other support for Ukraine, rather than a diplomatic pursuit to end the war — sends the wrong message, activists and victims said.
“Zelenskyy’s visit is not appropriate for Hiroshima, which is a peace-loving city,” said Etsuko Nakatani, an activist whose parents survived the Hiroshima atomic bombing in 1945.
Many Hiroshima residents hope that understanding the city's tragic past will push leaders to "take up the abolition of nuclear weapons as an urgent political issue, not an ideal,” she said. “But support for nuclear deterrence has persisted, and Russia's invasion of Ukraine seems to have justified it further.”
Yuta Takahashi, a Hiroshima-born activist, believes that Zelenskyy’s visit threatens to send a message "that justifies the need for nuclear deterrence in order to save Ukraine from becoming another Hiroshima,” he said. “It only makes us feel that Hiroshima was merely used by nuclear states to send a peace message.”
The summit started with a leaders’ visit to a peace park and a museum dedicated to those who died in the world’s first wartime atomic bombing. Kishida also planned to escort leaders to the park and museum Sunday, and to hold talks with the Ukrainian leader.
Earlier Sunday, Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol prayed at a memorial dedicated to Korean victims of the atomic bombing. The neighbors are trying to improve ties that have been strained by disputes stemming from Japan’s brutal colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.
Kishida, who represents Hiroshima in parliament, wants to highlight the G7 commitment to nuclear disarmament and a condemnation of Russia’s threats to use atomic weapons. But he has been faulted by survivors for refusing to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, saying its lack of nuclear states makes it unworkable.
Kishida has pledged to serve as a bridge between nuclear and non-nuclear states, but critics say his promise is hollow because Japan relies on its U.S. ally's nuclear umbrella for protection and has been rapidly expanding its military.
Kunihiko Sakuma, who was exposed as a baby to radiation from the bombing, said that G7 leaders should focus more on diplomatic efforts to end the war.
The G7 leaders issued a joint statement on nuclear disarmament that calls for the continued non-use of nuclear weapons, transparency and dialogue between nuclear and non-nuclear states, but it justifies nuclear weapons meant to “serve defensive purposes, deter aggression and prevent war and coercion.”
Zelenskyy has consistently called for Western fighter jets to bolster his country’s defenses.
On Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden announced his support for training Ukrainian pilots on U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, a precursor to eventually providing those aircraft to Ukraine.
The G7 leaders have rolled out a new wave of global sanctions on Moscow as well as plans to enhance the effectiveness of existing financial penalties meant to constrain Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war effort.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a coalition of non-governmental organizations that received a Nobel peace prize for working on the 2017 adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, said G7 leaders have failed to meaningfully acknowledge the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons or meet the demands of the bomb victims, called hibakusha, for concrete steps to eliminate nuclear weapons.
“Instead of rising to meet the urgency and weight of this moment, the G7’s inaction is an insult to the hibakusha, and the memory of those who died in Hiroshima,” ICAN said.