Sakhalin – You Are Not Forgotten

Sakhalin Koreans, aka Сахалинские корейцы or Корейцы Сахалин

By Sea of Japan Map.png: Chris 73 derivative work: Phoenix7777 (This file was derived from:  Sea of Japan Map.png) [CC-BY-SA-3.0],
By Sea of Japan Map.png: Chris 73 derivative work: Phoenix7777 (This file was derived from: Sea of Japan Map.png) [CC-BY-SA-3.0],
Off the east coast of Russia, Sakhalin island houses roughly 55,000 Koreans; this island has gone from being under the Empire of Japan, the Soviets, and now a federal semi-presidential republic Russia.

Everyone has citizenship to at least one country and have documentation to prove it.  For Sakhalin-Koreans still residing on the island, they cannot officially call their citizenship to any country.

How Did We End Up Here?

After Japan acquired the southern half of Sakhalin through the Treaty of Portsmouth, semi-skilled workers were needed to harvest the newly discovered profitable island rich with coal, timber, and fish.

During WWII, many Koreans were forced into labor and a total of 140,000 Koreans were scattered throughout southern Sakhalin chopping wood and mining.

Korean Coalminers in Sahkhalin. Source: Japan Focus
Korean Coalminers in Sahkhalin. Source: Japan Focus

Unfortunately, after the war was over, the southern part of Sakhalin, was quickly turned over to the Soviet Union, and consequently left Koreans stranded while 400,000 Japanese civilians were able to return to Japan.  In 1952, Japan officially announced that Koreans – 43,000 in counting – were not under Japanese citizenship, which made returning home to Korea impossible.  The few Koreans who did eventually return to South Korea definitely earned their right to be there.

Many had this idea that they would’ve been given the red carpet treatment under Soviet rule, so some made their way to Korsakov and other port cities of the island’s southern coast with no boat in sight.

A Mixing of Koreans

After the Soviets learned about the vast resources there, about 5,600 North Koreans were recruited to work in Sakhalin.  And a few years, the numbers peaked to about 12-13,000.

To add to the mix, in the 1940’s, communism was taught in classrooms and every child was to be indoctrinated.  However, Koreans that came under the rule of Japan and North Korea were being taught in Korean schools – and they couldn’t be trusted – so some 2000 communistic-Koreans from Central Asia (Russia) were transferred over to make sure children were being taught properly.

Also called the Koryo-saram, they spoke both Russian and Korean – read my previous article about them here – so the Soviets thought they would be perfect teachers to the Sakhalin-Koreans.

However, even though they were all technically Korean, there was unspoken tension amongst the Koryo-saram, the North Koreans, and the Sakhalin-Koreans.

Which Citizen Do You Want to Be?

There were sporadic opportunities to claim citizenship though unsuccessful and not favorable.

It reminds me of the Hunger Games when everyone’s lives were at stake and everything was random, except in this case, it was their citizenship at stake.


In 1953, Koreans were given the opportunity to obtain Soviet citizenship, however, only about 25% of the people took the offer.

In the mid 1950s, Koreans were given a choice to take up North Korean citizenship, 65% claimed this one. The remaining 10% still chose to be stateless.

No political party and or country was paying any attention to these hardworking laborers and it seemed like they were going to be in citizenship-limbo forever.  But they were not forgotten.

Glimmering Hope

In 1966, Park No Hak, a Korean married to a Japanese woman living in Japan, started a movement to bring the Sakhalin Koreans back to South Korea.  He petitioned 23 times to the Japanese government, and got attention from the South Korean citizens.

Decades of ignorance finally crept up when about 500,000 voices from South Korea formed an organization to officially repatriate Sakhalin Koreans and broadcasted this message to those on the island.

What also aided in their return was through the works of Rei Mihara, a Japanese woman who formed a pressure group in Japan, along with 18 Japanese kickass lawyers who tried to sue the Japanese government.

The End Is Near

When Gorbachev came into power, many reforms led to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and also brought back the 1st generation Koreans.

IMPORTANT: ‘1st generation’ are actually 2nd generation but listed arbitrarily as 1st, those born before 1945, and anyone born after this date were then labelled as the 2nd generation.

Limited to 1st generation, 2nd generation haven’t been granted the right so the issues are still remaining. Many 1st generation people have not gone back because that would mean leaving their child and or family behind.

Today, efforts to bring the remaining families back to South Korea still remains and Hae chul Chun, a politician, campaigned just that and very active in other areas of interest.  His twitter and facebook.

1990, Tao Nakayama issued an official apology and helped with the housing project in 2002 where the Sakhalin Koreans now reside in Ansan, South Korea.

To add to the bright note, Sakhalin Koreans can make a trip to South Korea in the meantime under the Japanese government’s expense $1.2 million dollars a year. About $5 million was spent building the Korean cultural center (корейский культурный центр).


Here’s a short documentary about the history of these people and a campaign if you’d like to get involved.

Fun Fact

Sakhalin Korean writing is of the North Korean standard, while spoken Korean is from Jeolla & Gyeongsang dialects (South Korea).

Liberation Day of Korea from Japanese colonialism is celebrated every year on this island and this year marks the 69th anniversary.  See this event captured on the

End Off

In conclusion, there’s been a lot of neglect in regards to these people which can make you think what other groups out there exist today that are facing the same political duress and waiting for that sweet day to return to their country.

Here are some articles that I used to obtain this information: Korea.stripes, NY Times, Wikipedia

And if you couldn’t get enough of the read, here’s a thorough examination of the history of Sakhalin Koreans.

So what do you think about all this ?  Let us know your response below !



    • It’s funny because as a child, history never interested me, but now it has more than ever. Oh and honestly, I didn’t know either of the island until a few months ago 😉 thanks as always for dropping by~



  1. My ex-girlfriend at Yonsei Korean Language School was a Sakhalin Korean. Very beautiful – spoke fluent Russian and above average Korean. Era Kwon.


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