SOUNDS OF HOPE: The Russian violin that survived the atomic bomb touches the souls of Ukrainians

The “atomic bombed violin”, which once belonged to a Russian, survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. It was restored ten years ago and its sound has since touched the hearts of many beyond borders. (The Asahi Shimbun)

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of a five-part series on the “atomic bombed violin.” The stringed instrument, once owned by a Russian, survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. It was restored ten years ago and its sound has since touched the hearts of many people beyond the borders.

* * *

A violin that belonged to a Russian and miraculously survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima has been given a second life as a memento of the atrocity and a symbol of a desire for peace.

These days, the instrument means even more to some people in wartime Ukraine, especially those in Slavutych, a town near the damaged Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

The violin was played at a concert held in Slavutych in northern Ukraine in April 2018. The instrument traveled to this part of the world with an atomic bomb survivor.

A young violinist named Illia Bondarenko played it at the concert organized in memory of the victims of the 1986 nuclear accident.

Bondarenko, now 20, recalled that the instrument felt different from other violins when he touched it.

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “the most horrible experience in the world”, he said.

Bondarenko said playing the violin that had survived the atomic bombing gave him “unusual feelings” because it wasn’t about the quality of the sound but “what the sound means to me”.

“It was like memories and historic moments in the sound of that violin, and for me it was really…I don’t want to say amazing because it wasn’t the happiest feelings, it was of course the sadness, but it was very touching for me to play this violin,” he said.

But he never imagined that a neighboring power would invade Ukraine four years later with the threat of a nuclear attack.

Bondarenko accepted the “No more Hiroshima, no more Nagasaki” message that the violin meant.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February left him wondering, “If (Ukraine) had a nuclear bomb before the war, this war could never happen.

The so-called “atomic bombed violin” on display at Hiroshima Jogakuin University in Hiroshima. The instrument survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 and was restored ten years ago. (Jun Ueda)

He said, however, that no one wants to see what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki happen again.

“I think the world will be a lot better off without any nuclear weapons,” he said. “But unfortunately, we don’t live in a utopia.”


The violin was brought to Hiroshima by a Russian man, who went into exile in Japan in 1923 after the Russian Revolution.

The man taught music at Hiroshima Jogakuin, a high school for girls.

On August 6, 1945, the man and his family were in their home, about 2.5 kilometers from the hypocenter of the bomb that was dropped on the city.

The violin was found and removed from the bombed debris and was saved.

When the man moved to the United States after the war ended, the violin went with him.

After the man died, his bereaved family donated the violin to Hiroshima Jogakuin.

But the surface of the instrument was damaged and its bow was broken.

In 2011, Takashi Ishii, a craftsman specializing in stringed musical instruments who had a workshop in Cremona, Italy, discovered the violin and offered to restore it.

He made it playable again. The violin then returned to Hiroshima in 2012.

It became known as the “atomic bombed violin”.

Normally, it is exhibited at the Hiroshima Jogakuin University History Museum.

But he also travels the world to send the message that the horrors of nuclear weapons should never happen again.

So far, the violin has been loaned out for concert or other purposes more than 50 times in Japan and abroad, including the concert in Slavutych in northern Ukraine.


Slavutych was occupied by Russian troops after the invasion of Ukraine. Residents feared the worst as Russian soldiers took control of the Chernobyl nuclear site.

Yuri Fomichev, mayor of Slavutych, a city in northern Ukraine, in an online interview on July 7 (Shohei Okada)

Slavutych Mayor Yuri Fomichev, 46, was temporarily detained by Russian troops in March.

He said Russia’s takeover of the crippled nuclear power plant “poses a strong threat to the world”.

Fomichev interacted with a group of Japanese who visited the city for the 2018 concert.

He sent a message to an online event to mark the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, which was held on August 6, 2020, and said, “Ukrainians and Japanese understand better than anyone the importance of not to use nuclear weapons. I urge the world to follow in Ukraine’s footsteps and abolish nuclear weapons.

After the Russian invasion, public opinion in Ukraine changed and some questioned Ukraine’s decision to deny nuclear weapons after transferring everything on its soil to Russia after the outbreak of the war. ‘Soviet Union.

But Fomichev remained persistent.

In an interview in early July, the mayor said, “The whole world must follow a path to abolish nuclear weapons. I hope the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will spread the message that we must not use nuclear weapons no matter what.

He added: “There is no winner in a nuclear war”.


Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Bondarenko has worked with Ryuichi Sakamoto, a famous Japanese composer, to produce a number called “Piece for Illia”.

Sakamoto, 70, known for his anti-war and anti-nuclear activism, said he and Bondarenko “worked to express their anger at the indignity of war, their sadness and their feelings towards Ukraine” in the item.

Sakamoto said the world should prevent Russia from using a nuclear weapon “by any means necessary”.

Ryuichi Sakamoto in December 2018 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

“There is only despair and tragedy in the world without a deterrent,” he said.

On the evening of July 19, Bodarenko stood in front of a church on a hill in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and played the piece with his own violin.

Bodarenko said the music has a very simple melody and “everyone can understand” the message.

(This article was written by correspondent Jun Nojima, Shohei Okada, Tabito Fukutomi and senior editor Hideki Soejima.)