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Ukraine apologises after backlash over Hirohito image in anti-fascism video

Wartime emperor removed from video on Russia’s invasion, which also featured Hitler and Mussolini, after angry reaction from Japan.

THE GUARDIAN: Wartime emperor removed from video on Russia’s invasion, which also featured Hitler and Mussolini, after angry reaction from Japan.

Ukraine’s government has apologised after it included a photograph of Japan’s wartime emperor, Hirohito, in an anti-fascism video alongside images of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

Officials removed Hirohito from the video after pressure from the Japanese government, which has imposed sanctions on Russia, provided $300m (£235m) in loans for Ukraine and accepted hundreds of refugees.

Japan’s deputy chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihiko Isozaki, said Tokyo would continue to support Ukraine but Hirohito’s inclusion in the video had been “completely inappropriate”.

The video, posted by the Ukrainian government on Twitter on 1 April, described Russia’s invasion as “contemporary ruscism” and included the three second world war figures above the message: “Fascism and Nazism were defeated in 1945.”

The decision to remove Hirohito’s photo and apologise is seen as an attempt by Ukraine’s government not to alienate Japan, an ally in its war against Russia.

While Japan’s wartime government was led by the then prime minister, Hideki Tojo, the conflict was fought in the name of Hirohito, who was revered as a living god until Japan’s defeat in August 1945.

His reign began in 1926 during Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean peninsula and included all of the Pacific war’s key developments, from the attack on Pearl Harbor to Japan’s surrender after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Fearing political instability and the influence of communism, the postwar US occupation forces allowed Hirohito to remain on the chrysanthemum throne but stripped him of his divine status, making him a symbol of the unity of the Japanese people instead.

His son, Akihito, who ascended the throne after his father’s death in 1989, spent much of his reign attempting to repair relations with Japan’s former victims.

Historians remain divided over how big a role Hirohito played in decision-making during the war. Japanese conservatives are sensitive to any association made between Hirohito – who is posthumously known as the Emperor Showa – and wartime atrocities committed by imperial Japan, a member of the Axis powers coalition along with Nazi Germany and fascist Italy.

“Portraying Hitler, Mussolini and Emperor Showa in the same context is completely inappropriate,” Isozaki told reporters. “It was extremely regrettable.”

The Ukrainian government removed Hirohito’s image from the video and tweeted its “sincere apologies for making this mistake”, adding that it had “no intention to offend the friendly people of Japan”.

The Ukrainian ambassador to Japan, Sergiy Korsunsky, also apologised in a tweet, saying the creator of the video “lacked an understanding of history”.

Some Japanese Twitter users continued to criticise the original video and called on their government to withdraw its support for Ukraine. Others said it would have been more appropriate to have used a photo of Tojo, who was hanged as a war criminal in 1948.

He is honoured, along with other Japanese war dead, at Yasukuni shrine, where pilgrimages by conservative Japanese politicians have drawn criticism from China and South Korea.

Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe visited Yasukuni last week to mark the shrine’s spring festival. The current prime minister, Fumio Kishida, sent a ritual offering but did not attend in person.