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Helping Ukrainian refugees build a tech career in Japan

The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine is causing a massive humanitarian crisis. More than 13 million Ukrainians fled their homes, with around 2000 coming to Japan as refugees.
The Ukraine-Japan Scholarship launched by Stand with Ukraine Japan, Le Wagon Tokyo, Virtusize and Nextblue, enables Ukrainian refugees in Japan to learn technical skills and become software developers. Among companies that already joined the initiative and provide scholarships are Virtusize, Vacan Inc., SecureNavi, KiZUKAI, NextBlue, Reality Accelerator.

Read more about the initiative here

We talked with Leo and Yuliia, our full-time web development alumni who have been awarded a Scholarship in Tokyo. Read about their coding bootcamp experience and plans for a new life in Japan.

Leo and Yuliia at their graduation day

Hello, Leo and Yuliia! Please tell us about your journey to Japan. 

Leo: Prior to the invasion, I was studying heavy machinery at a college in Kharkiv city and working part-time as a 3D printing engineer.

Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city located near the border, has been heavily shelled since the first days of the war. For two weeks, I hid in a cold and moldy basement, listening to bombs striking my neighborhood.

Leo in Kyiv, one month before the invasion

When a rocket fell 100 meters from the basement, I realized it was time to leave. 
Since my girlfriend studied Japanese language in university, we thought it would be a good idea to relocate to Japan and build a new life there. 

When we arrived in Japan, a group of volunteers helping Ukrainian refugees suggested that I take training to improve my chances for employment. I found an article about the Scholarship on the Le Wagon Tokyo’s website and decided I’d give it a try. 

Yuliia: Originally from the north-eastern region of Sumy, I worked as a Data Team manager in Kyiv. 

On February 24th, the Russian army crossed the border into Sumy, and terrified, me and my mom listened as their tanks moved towards the capital Kyiv. Several attempts to evacuate civilians through the ‘green corridors’ failed, and we had no choice but to stay inside our house praying it wouldn't be damaged. 

Several weeks later, an evacuation bus took us to the neighboring city of Poltava. My brother who lives in Tokyo offered us shelter and helped us to undertake a long journey to Japan. A friend recommended me to look into the Scholarship opportunity and fortunately, I was accepted for a Fall 2022 batch.  

Yuliia's mom at the airport, arrival hall

When did you become interested in web development?

Leo: My programming journey started about 3 years ago. Like many beginners in Ukraine, I picked C# and jumped in head first with no direction. After a failure to master C#, I discovered front-end development and immediately took a liking to it. Two weeks of going through Javascript and HTML/CSS tutorials were great but alas, the war started and put an end to my studies.

Yuliia: In the course of my work, I looked for problems that I could solve. I enjoyed coming up with solutions and most importantly, I wanted to deliver value. With these thoughts in mind and attempts to find other avenues in software development, I found my attention drawn towards Product Management. Of course, there isn’t really a prescribed path to becoming a product manager but I thought that learning coding is very useful for understanding what is under the hood. 

What did you like the most about the bootcamp?

Leo: I liked how we were given a structured program with creative assignments. Our teachers were also relaxed and made the bootcamp experience enjoyable for all students. I am amazed how much they were able to teach me and everyone else in the classroom from any walk of life.

Leo and his classmate presenting their web application during the Product Sprint day

My final project was a food recipe application where users could make a shopping list of ingredients and receive step-by-step guidance. I truly enjoyed working in a team and had my people skills greatly improved.

Yuliia: Since I was new to writing coding languages, I was nervous for the bootcamp, but the unwavering support from the instructors helped me feel comfortable. I looked forward to going to class and learning something new each day. 

For the final project, my team and I built a volunteer platform to connect organizers with supporters, creating an online community and more efficient communication channels. The idea was suggested by my batchmate whose father is managing a non-profit organization for refugee children. I hope that my application could make on-the-ground organizing in Ukraine more manageable as well.

What have you been doing after graduation?

Leo: After graduating, I built my professional profile and started job hunting. I knew that many people get jobs through networking, and I was making those contacts all along. Paul Roberts, Tokyo’s recruiter who helped many Le Wagon graduates, wrote a Linkedin post about my job search that received a huge positive response. After several interviews, I secured a Frontend Developer job at Tokyo Techies, a one-stop software consulting company based in Tokyo.

Paul Roberts’ post in Linkedin that helped Leo get a job

I continue to expand my tech knowledge while employing the techniques I was taught in bootcamp. In bootcamp, you learn how to learn, it’s a unique experience.

Yuliia: I am currently learning a new tech stack and looking for a job as a Product Manager. Since I don’t speak Japanese fluently, I am targeting mainly international tech companies in Tokyo. Hit me up if you have any references! 

Any last words?

Leo: I want to say a huge thanks to all the sponsors and Le Wagon Tokyo for giving me this opportunity. This course really pushed me forward to my dream to become a web developer and start a new career away from the homeland. 

I am keeping an eye on the situation in Ukraine and hope one day I will be able to start my own company to support Ukrainian IT workers and businesses.

Yuliia: I am truly grateful for being able to go through the course and learn programming together with other motivated students. The skills I gained are in a high demand anywhere in the world and I consider it a great investment in the future. 

Yuliia discussing a project with her teammates

It is difficult for many Ukrainian refugees to find a decent job abroad because of the language barrier issue and not valid work certifications. Le Wagon Scholarship provides a great opportunity for those who seek a brighter future in times of darkness.

Thank you, Leo and Yuliia! Good luck in your new career and life milestone in Japan. 
Our users have also consulted:
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