January 29, 2022

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What’s in a Identify? For the Koreans of Sakhalin, an Anguished Historical past

What’s in a Name? For the Koreans of Sakhalin, an Anguished History

SAKHALIN ISLAND, Russia — On distant Sakhalin Island, close to Russia’s jap edge, tales of longing and splintered id are embedded in individuals’s very names.

Some individuals right here have three totally different names — Russian, Korean and Japanese — every representing a special chapter of the island’s century-long historical past of pressured resettlement and struggle.

Taeko Nisio acquired her title from the Japanese authorities in 1939 after she arrived on Sakhalin, at 8 years previous, when it was part of Japan’s empire. The Soviets captured the island on the finish of World Struggle II, and her new Russian pals began calling her Tanya. However to start with, Ms. Nisio’s title was Jeon Chae-ryeon, and after eight a long time, she is lastly planning to return to the place she was born — South Korea.

“Mother,” Ms. Nisio’s daughter Kim Geum-hee recollects exclaiming when the South Korean Consulate phoned at their concrete residence block this fall. “We’re going house!”

The Koreans of Sakhalin Island, a individuals stranded by historical past, are on the transfer but once more. A South Korean legislation took impact this 12 months permitting extra of Sakhalin’s Korean diaspora to return to their ancestral homeland, a second of long-delayed redemption for a individuals introduced right here as laborers three generations in the past after which left stateless underneath Soviet rule.

However the story of the Sakhalin Koreans, now numbering about 25,000 on this 600-mile-long Pacific island, can be a really Russian story of emigration and the lengthy shadow of struggle. Although Seoul this 12 months broadened the scope of these Sakhalin Koreans being given authorities assist to return, most nonetheless don’t qualify — forcing the 1000’s who do to make usually wrenching choices about staying or going, and doubtlessly leaving household behind.

“There will likely be extra damaged households,” stated Pak Solar Okay, director of an advocacy group for Sakhalin Koreans in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the island’s important metropolis. “This wound is being opened up once more.”

So many individuals have been coming in to ask about the potential of leaving {that a} printed-out signal hangs downstairs on the Korean Cultural Middle: “Examine with the consulate for details about transferring to Korea.” Upstairs, Ms. Pak pursed her lips and frowned as she scrolled via a doc simply posted by the South Korean Consulate displaying that 350 individuals had already been authorized to depart as early as this month. Within the hallway, black-and-white images evoked a long time of dislocation.

In a single, a grimacing previous man with a bulging backpack appears to be like again, forehead furrowed and mouth open, holding his hat to wave farewell, as he walks alone throughout the tarmac towards a ready aircraft.

For about 40 years earlier than and through World Struggle II, Japan managed the southern half of Sakhalin and introduced over 1000’s of laborers from Korea. The Soviets captured the island in August 1945 and allowed the Japanese to return to Japan. Many Koreans have been left behind and have become stateless residents of the Soviet Union.

Some later moved to Communist North Korea. However most hailed from the South, and for many years they have been reduce off from house and from household by an Asian Iron Curtain.

Because the Soviet Union fell and Seoul and Moscow established ties, South Korea allowed these Sakhalin Koreans who had been born whereas the island was nonetheless underneath Japanese management to maneuver again. It was an echo of Israel’s welcome of Soviet Jews and Germany’s repatriation program for the ethnic Germans of the previous Soviet Union.

However in contrast to these initiatives, South Korea’s didn’t apply to a number of generations. Within the Nineties and 2000s, greater than 4,000 first-generation Sakhalin Koreans moved to South Korea, usually leaving the household that they had fashioned in Russia behind. Ms. Pak says the wails on the airport the day she went to say goodbye to her stepsister recalled many “funerals of the dwelling” occurring directly.

“They wished to go to their homeland to die,” Viktoriya Bya, editor of Sakhalin’s Korean-language newspaper, stated of that first wave of repatriation.

A lot of those that stayed grew to become profitable in capitalist Russia, cashing in on Sakhalin Island’s power growth, commerce with South Korea and Japan and profitable enterprise ties with North Korea. One businessman, Li Ku Yul, confirmed off silver and gold medals in his Sakhalin workplace awarded by the Presidium of the Supreme Folks’s Meeting of North Korea. He had one important piece of recommendation for fellow Russians touring to Pyongyang: “By no means criticize” your hosts.

Lately, Korean tradition suffuses Sakhalin, a area of about 500,000. You could find Korean eating places throughout the island, and kimchi at roadside outlets. The Presbyterian Church is run by a South Korean pastor and appears like the one place in Russia — a nation of Covid skeptics — the place everybody wears masks indoors. The general public arts college has a Korean division the place a number of the performances are primarily based on North Korean songbooks, however with altered lyrics.

“Typically there’s only a actually lovely melody, and we don’t inform the children that it’s concerning the Nice Chief,” stated Yulia Sin, who runs the Korean division. “We are able to select what we take from North Korea and what we take from South Korea, and create one thing new.”

However now the drama of households separated by emigration and repatriation has returned, magnified by coronavirus border closures. The brand new legislation permits youthful Sakhalin Koreans to maneuver to South Korea if they’re caring for a first-generation returnee. However restrictions stay: just one particular person, together with their partner, can qualify as somebody’s “caretaker,” forcing siblings to barter who amongst them will transfer, and barring their grown kids from coming alongside.

“Many individuals are actually arguing, quarreling due to this,” stated Sergei Li, 33, a financial institution worker who volunteers distributing Korean groceries to older members of the diaspora, paid for partially by a South Korean basis.

Whereas South Korea has a visa-free coverage for Russians and direct flights to Sakhalin, the separation has come to really feel much more substantial through the pandemic. Russia’s borders reopened to South Koreans solely in August, and South Korea nonetheless requires a 10-day quarantine for many arrivals.

Mr. Li’s parents-in-law are planning to maneuver to South Korea underneath the brand new legislation, leaving grandchildren behind. He stated he had no plans to depart, describing himself as a proud Russian with a Russian mentality — which he outlined as, for instance, having the braveness to talk up when one disagreed with one’s elders.

Ms. Pak, the advocacy group’s director, says she is staying put for now, opposite to rumors that she is planning to go away. Ms. Bya, the newspaper editor, is resisting her mother and father’ entreaties that she come be a part of them in South Korea as a result of she values her present job. Liede San Bok, a human-resources specialist, says that she want to transfer sooner or later, however her older sister has already utilized as their mom’s caretaker.

Sakhalin Koreans have campaigned for years for your complete diaspora to have the appropriate to assert South Korean citizenship. Whereas individuals of Korean descent stay all throughout the previous Soviet Union, Sakhalin Koreans think about themselves a separate group, with a selected legacy of pressured resettlement. However South Korean lawmakers hesitated bestowing particular rights upon Sakhalin Koreans, and even when the breakthrough got here final 12 months — because of influential lawmakers from the bulk occasion sponsoring new laws — they nonetheless imposed strict limits.

Ms. Nisio, 89, stated that her mom had introduced her from southwestern Korea to Karafuto Prefecture, as southern Sakhalin was as soon as identified, the place Ms. Nisio’s uncle labored in a coal mine. She had wished to maneuver again to South Korea twenty years in the past, however didn’t as a result of it could have meant abandoning her daughter Ms. Kim, who was ailing on the time.

Below the brand new legislation, the 2 of them can now depart Russia collectively to turn out to be everlasting residents of South Korea. The federal government will present an residence and, Ms. Kim expects, a tv — a key amenity for Ms. Nisio, a fan of South Korean dramas.

Ms. Kim figures they may be capable to take two 50-pound suitcases with them, which needs to be lots.

“I’m very pleased,” Ms. Nisio stated just lately in damaged Russian, as she was getting ready to bid farewell to Sakhalin. “As a result of the homeland, the homeland is over there!”

Choe Sang-Hun contributed reporting from Seoul.

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