May 31, 2023

Koreans on Sakhalin: The misadventures of migrant workers

Loss of Japanese control coming of Korean War left Sakhalin Koreans trapped

It is widely known that roughly half a million ethnic Koreans live in the former Soviet Union. It is less well-known, though, that the Soviet Korean community essentially consists of two distinct groups, the history, culture and worldview of which are remarkably different.

More than 90 percent of former Soviet Koreans are people who once lived in the Maritime Province, the area around Vladivostok. In 1937, these people were forcibly relocated to Central Asia, where most of them have been ever since (though after the end of the USSR a significant number eventually migrated to Russia). The other group are the Koreans of Sakhalin Island. Strictly speaking, the latter group did not migrate to the Soviet Union or Russia; rather they suddenly discovered themselves on day to be under Soviet control in 1945, at the end of World War II. The southern part of the island, hitherto Japanese territory, had become part of the Soviet Union.