Koreans in Sakhalin Island

Situated off the eastern Russian coast and just north of Japan, Sakhalin Island is home to one of the largest Korean communities in Russia and in the former Soviet Union. Along with the Koyro-saram, or the Koreans in Central Asia, the Koreans living in Sakhalin constitute one of the more recognizable diasporas in the region and embody some of the lasting geopolitical legacies of Japanese and Soviet interventions during World War II. Indeed, the Koreans who have lived on the island throughout the 20th century have been victims of the powers that be: Stranded in a foreign country and with limited opportunities to return to their homeland, they have had no other option than to acquiesce and assimilate to their immediate surroundings. The Sakhalin Koreans, however, have not only persevered through their struggles but have also become a telling example of communal resilience; despite the myriad of difficulties, they have forged a new identity for themselves and have embraced their hybrid heritage.

Although there were minute numbers of Koreans living in Sakhalin before 1900, hundreds of thousands of Koreans traveled to the island from 1939 to 1945 under the pressure of the Japanese imperial government. At the time, the southern portion of Sakhalin island was administered by Japan and known as the Karafuto Prefecture. In order to cope with the growing labor shortage from the war efforts, Japan first recruited and later obliged Koreans to work in coal and mineral mines, with little guarantee of ever returning home. Between 1942 to 1944 in particular, approximately 43,000 Koreans were taken to Sakhalin to work as forced laborers. When Japan lost the war, however, and the island was retaken by Soviet forces, the Koreans on the island were left with nowhere else to go: The Japanese were not willing to repatriate and accept the Koreans as their own, while the increasingly complex Soviet and South Korean relationship made it difficult for claims of citizenship to be adequately acknowledged by either government. In this way, as some scholars have suggested, these initial Korean immigrants can be seen as some of the last refuges of World War II. This first generation of Sakhalin Koreans therefore retained a strong connection to their Korean homeland; for decades, thousands of individuals wished to return home without being able to do so. As time passed, however, the Koreans established notable communities; today, there are second and third generation Sakhalin Koreans who have decided to continue to live on the island.

As such, the Sakhalin Korean community, though belonging to the overall diaspora of Koreans in the former Soviet Union, differs from its continental counterpart in its origins and in its conception of Korean identity. The Sakhalin Koreans have responded to the circumstances imposed on them while simultaneously cultivating a distinctively Russian and Korean worldview.

Further Reading and Academic References:

Balitskaya, Irina & Park, Jae. (2015). Education and Mobility of Korean Diaspora in Sakhalin. International Journal of Comparative Education and Development. 17. 82-96. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280693175_Education_and_Mobility_of_Korean_Diaspora_in_Sakhalin

BUCHKIN, ANDREW. “KOREANS UNDER COMMUNISM.” International Journal on World Peace 7, no. 4 (1990): 15-31. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20751618

Din, Y. (2016, Jan). The first political organization of koreans on sakhalin island in their struggle for repatriation. Far Eastern Affairs, 44, 138. http://dx.doi.org/10.21557/FEA.46587934

Gelb, Michael. “An Early Soviet Ethnic Deportation: The Far-Eastern Koreans.” The Russian Review 54, no. 3 (1995): 389-412. https://www.jstor.org/stable/131438

Ginsburgs, George, and Herta Ginsburgs. “A Statistical Profile of the Korean Community in the Soviet Union.” Asian Survey 17, no. 10 (1977): 952-66. doi:10.2307/2643393

Ki-Young, Choi. “Forced migration of Koreans to Sakhalin and their repatriation.” Korea Journal 44, no. 4 (2004): 111-132. https://www.ekoreajournal.net/issue/view_pop.htm?Idx=3317

Saveliev, Igor R. “Trapped in the Contested Borderland: Sakhalin Koreans, Wartime Displacement and Identity.” In Japan as the Occupier and the Occupied, pp. 172-190. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2015. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057/9781137408112_9

Saveliev, Igor. “Mobility Decision-Making and New Diasporic Spaces: Conceptualizing Korean Diasporas in the Post-Soviet Space.” Pacific Affairs 83, no. 3 (2010): 481-504. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25766411

Saveliev, Igor. “Homeland and Diasporic Space: Transnational Practices of Central Asian and Sakhalin Koreans.”

Son, In Soo. “KOREANS IN SAKHALIN.” International Journal on World Peace 9, no. 3 (1992): 7-15. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20751808

Szawarska, Dorota. ““Who will love you if they have to look after you?”: Sakhalin Koreans Caring from a Distance.” In Ethnographies of Social Support, pp. 39-58. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2013. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057/9781137330970_3

Um, Hae-Kyung. “Listening Patterns and Identity of the Korean Diaspora in the Former USSR.” British Journal of Ethnomusicology 9, no. 2 (2000): 121-42. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3060648

Articles and Online Resources:

“The Forsaken People”, A New York Times Archive Report:

The Present and Future of Koreans on Sakhalin Island (2002):

Photography: Untold Stories from Sakhalin, “Where Russia Meets Korea”:

A Historical Review of Sakhalin Koreans:

On the Similarities and Differences Between Central Asian and Sakhalin Koreans:

Sakhalin’s Koreans, “Russian at Heart”:

Koreans in Russia—A Historical Perspective:

Sakhalin Koreans—Protests, North Korea, and the Connections to Russia:




Protests by Sakhalin Koreans:


North Korean Influence and Intervention in the History of Sakhalin Koreans:


“Hundreds of Ethnic Koreans from Sakhalin to Return Home: A Colonial Legacy”:


Sakhalin Koreans Return Home:





Difficulty in Koreans to leave Sakhalin Island:

Assorted Articles from The Sakhalin Times:



Hallyu Influence in Sakhalin Island:

YouTube and Video Links:

“A Forgotten People. The Sakhalin Koreans. (잊혀진 사람들)” A Documentary:


Sakhalin Koreans, “I am Korean” (video in Korean):

A Brief History of Koreans in Sakhalin and Russia:

“Ethnic Koreans living in Russia are allowed to return to their homeland”:

Chuseok in Sakhalin Island (in Korean):