The Koreans of Kazakhstan - PhMuseum

The Koreans of Kazakhstan

Michael Vince Kim

2015 - Ongoing

Kazakhstan

In 1937, 180,000 Koreans that had settled in the Russian Far East to escape famine, poverty, and Japanese colonial oppression were forcefully deported to Central Asia under Stalin’s ethnic cleansing. 40,000 Koreans died during the month­long journey in precarious and overcrowded cattle trains and the harsh Kazakh winters following the relocation. They were left with no means of survival nor the compensation they had been promised. Starvation and illness became commonplace, and they lived in earth dug­outs while being ordered to grow rice in the desertic Kazakh steppe.

The Koreans received medals of honour for their hard labour and success in collective farms as well as their participation in war, yet they were denied the right to retain their own language, a Soviet Korean dialect distinct from the language spoken in modern Korea. Along with cultural assimilation and intermarriage, the Soviet Korean dialect is almost extinct. Nevertheless, the Koreans of Kazakhstan have retained a sense of identity as ethnic Koreans as well as traditions and rituals still practiced in the Korean peninsula today.

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  • Mikhail Danelevich Ten, 90, was deported from Vladivostok, Russia at the age of 12. Koreans were transported in precarious cattle trains during the month-long journey. The wagons were overcrowded, and often families were separated and sent in different trains without being told their destination. Out of 180,000 deported, 40,000 passed away due to illness, starvation, and exposure during the harsh winters. Most of the deceased were children and elders.

  • Korean Theatre of Almaty. Founded in Vladivostok in 1932, the Korean theatre was deported to Kazakhstan along the rest of the population. Korean-language schools were banned, but the Soviet government did not enforce the closure of the theatre. However, its productions were strictly controlled by the government, allowing only ten percent of the plays to refer to Korean culture. The rest was to be dedicated to Russian and Soviet plays.

  • A Kazakh man receives acupuncture treatment in a temporary clinic set up by Korean American missionaries.2014. A Kazakh man receives acupuncture treatment in a temporary clinic set up by Korean-American missionaries.

  • Kazakh soldiers in Ushtobe train station during a military parade welcoming soliders returning from training in China. When Koreans were deported, the Soviet government ordered Kazakhs not to make contact with Koreans. Nevertheless, Kazakhs helped Koreans dig holes in the ground for shelter, gave them food, and some hosted them to survive the first two harsh winters following their relocation.

  • Zinayida Kim sells Korean food at a bazaar in Ushtobe train station. Her parents were deported from Khabarovsk, Russia in 1937.

  • Kazakhstani Korean food differs from traditional Korean food. Their cuisine has been influenced by ingredients used in Russian and Kazakh cuisine.

  • Skeleton frame of an ex-Soviet building in Ushtobe, the first place Koreans were deported to in 1937, now known as the Korean District of Kazakhstan. Most Koreans have now moved to bigger cities in search of socioeconomic success.

  • Deportee's home. The tiger is one of the most important animals in Korean folklore.

  • Maya Kim, 85, and her daughter Zoya. Maya survived a train crash while being deported to Kazakhstan 1937. Many Koreans died in accidents while travelling in precarious cattle trains.

  • Ushtobe, the first place Koreans were deported to in 1937, now known as the Korean District of Kazakhstan. Most Koreans have now moved to bigger cities in search of socioeconomic success.

  • Sung-ok Tigay, 92, mourning the death of her son with a South Korean missionary. Sung-ok was deported from Vladivostok at the age of 13 and lost her parents soon after. She recalls that while living in earth dugouts that Kazakhs helped them dig, up to five people per dugout could die overnight due to the cold weather, illness, or starvation. Like many others, she was later hosted by a Kazakh family, developing a close relationship that is still appreciated today. Nowadays, Sung-ok sings herself old Korean folk songs to sleep. Many of these songs were sung in the desertic Kazakh steppe while growing rice, where she worked until her hands got fractured. She remembers over a hundred songs by hard, many of which have not been written down and are not presently known in modern Korea.

  • Kazakh children playing on a frozen river in Ushtobe, the first place Koreans were deported to in 1937.

  • Lyrics of a Korean song titled "Seoul Forever", written phonetically in cyrillic. Less than 3 percent of the Koreans of Kazakhstan speak their Russified dialect, Koryo-mar, which has ties to an ancient version of the language that South Koreans are no longer able to understand. Those who can still speak the dialect write it phonetically, in cyrillic, in order to preserve old folk songs as well as new ones brought from the Korean Peninsula.

  • Sung-ok Tigay, 92, was deported from Vladivostok at the age of 13 and lost her parents soon after. She recalls that while living in earth dugouts that Kazakhs helped them dig, up to five people per dugout could die overnight due to the cold weather, illness, or starvation. Like many others, she was later hosted by a Kazakh family, developing a close relationship that is still appreciated today. Nowadays, Sung-ok sings herself old Korean folk songs to sleep. Many of these songs were sung in the desertic Kazakh steppe while growing rice, where she worked until her hands got fractured. She remembers over a hundred songs by hard, many of which have not been written down and are not presently known in modern Korea.

  • Fallen cross in Bastobe hill, one of the first Korean settlements in Kazakhstan, now a cemetery for ethnic Koreans. The deported Koreans spent two harsh winters in holes dug in the ground for shelter as they did not receive building materials, help, or compensation they had been promised by the state. As a consequence, many died of hunger, illness, and cold.

  • Nastya and Sveta Nam's parents are half-Korean and half-Russian. They learn Korean at a Korean church in Ushtobe and dream of studying language and traditional dance in South Korea.

  • Alek Yun has never learnt Korean, but remembers his grandparents speaking it at home. His parents used mostly Russian at home, with the belief that assimilation was the key to social mobility and financial success.

  • Ethnic Korean teenagers wearing traditional Korean dresses after a rehearsal in the first Korean-language school of Kazakhstan, where decades ago nine out of ten students were Korean. Today, only one out of ten students is Korean and Russian is the main language used in the school, but students can still take optional classes in Korean language, music, and dance.

  • Sisters Anna and Aliona Kim, singing a Korean folk song. As a Korean living in the Russian Far East, their father was forced to be deported to Kazakhstan. Their mother was Russian thus free to stay, but unwilling to be separated from her husband, she decided to board the train with him.

  • Ethnic Korean boy at a Kazakh nursery. Parents can choose to send their children to classes in Russian or Kazakh language. In Ushtobe, until a few decades ago, nine out of ten students were Koreans. Today, the opposite is true: most Koreans have moved to big cities, and now only one out of ten students is Korean.

  • An abandoned Soviet cultural centre. The Korean Theatre used to perform in this centre before moving to Almaty, the capital of Kazakhstan at the time, along with most Koreans seeking financial success and social mobility.


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