The “atomic-bombed violin,” once owned by a Russian, survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. It was restored a decade ago and its sound has since touched many people’s hearts across borders. (The Asahi Shimbun)

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

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A violin that was owned by 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.

Nowadays, the instrument means even more to some people in wartime Ukraine, particularly those in Slavutych, a city close to 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 that part of the world with an atomic bomb survivor.

A young violinist named Illia Bondarenko played it at the concert, held 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 to play the violin that survived the atomic bombing gave him “unusual feelings” because it was not about the quality of the sound but “what the sound means for me.”

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

But little did he imagine that a neighboring power would invade Ukraine four years later with the threat of a nuclear attack.

Bondarenko has agreed with the “No more Hiroshima, No more Nagasaki” message that the violin signified.

But the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February has made him wonder, “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 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima and was restored a decade ago. (Jun Ueda)

He said, however, that nobody wants to see what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to ever occur again. 

“I think the world will be much better without any nuclear weapons,” he said. “But unfortunately we’re not living in a utopia.”


The violin was brought to Hiroshima by a Russian man, who exiled himself in Japan in 1923 after the Russian Revolution.

The man was teaching music at Hiroshima Jogakuin, a girl’s high school.

On Aug. 6, 1945, the man and his family were at home, about 2.5 kilometers from the hypocenter of the bomb that was dropped over the city.

The violin was found and pulled out of the bombed-out debris and was saved.

When the man moved to the United States after the end of the war, 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 studio in Cremona, Italy, learned about 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 on display at the Hiroshima Jogakuin University’s history museum.

But it also travels the world to send the message that the horrors of nuclear weapons should never be repeated.

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


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

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

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

He said the Russian takeover of the crippled nuclear plant “was a strong threat to the world.” 

Fomichev had an interaction 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, held on Aug. 6, 2020, and said, “People in Ukraine and Japan understand better than anybody else the importance of not using nuclear weapons. I urge the world to follow in the steps of Ukraine and abolish nuclear weapons.”

After the Russian invasion, public opinion in Ukraine has shifted and some have questioned Ukraine’s decision to disown nuclear weapons after it transferred all that were on its soil to Russia following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

But Fomichev has remained persistent.

In an interview in early July, the mayor said, “The entire world needs to follow a path to abolish nuclear weapons. I hope people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki deliver a message that we should 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 famed Japanese composer, to produce a number titled, “Piece for Illia.”

Sakamoto, 70, known for his anti-war and anti-nuclear activism, said he and Bondarenko “worked to express anger toward the outrageousness of war, sadness and feelings toward Ukraine” in the piece.

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

Ryuichi Sakamoto in December 2018 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

“There is nothing but despair and tragedy in the world without a deterrent,” he said.

On the evening of July 19, Bodarenko stood in front of a church located 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 that “everybody can understand” the message.

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