|The Koryo Culture Center is a place where people can witness the history of anti-imperial activities and the resettlement of ethnic Koreans in detail. Korea Times photos by Kwak Yeon-soo|
By Kwak Yeon-soo
USSURIYSK, Russia ― Some 98 kilometers north of Vladivostok, the city of Ussuriysk served as the foothold of the Korean independence movement. It is where a large number of ethnic Koreans first settled and a handful of monuments still stand today to commemorate their sacrifice.
The Koryo Culture Center is a place where people can witness the history of anti-imperial activities and the resettlement of ethnic Koreans in detail.
Kim Valeria, a former president and current editor of the Koryo Sinmun, said, "The center has a big meaning for us as we are eager to share the deep-rooted history of freedom fighters in Russia. The center keeps records of culture and traces of Korea. Here we also offer Korean language classes and publish monthly newspapers in Russian."
|Ahn Jung-geun and Hong Beom-do monuments stand proudly in front of the culture center to greet visitors.|
Ahn Jung-geun and Hong Beom-do monuments stand proudly in front of the culture center to greet visitors.
Ahn is regarded as a national hero in Korea for the 1909 assassination of Ito Hirobumi, four-time prime minister of Japan and the first resident governor general of Korea. Ahn was arrested on the spot, and tried and executed the following year.
Hong, whose monument was set up last October, led an army of freedom fighters after moving to Manchuria during the Japanese occupation. Following the March 1 Independence Movement in 1919, he led an armed force in the fight against the Japanese.
In 1920, he was successful in the Bongoh Town Battle and Battle of Qingshanli against the Japanese army.
Hong died in 1943. Nearly two decades later, the Korean government posthumously awarded him the Order of Merit in 1962.
"To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement, we set up Hong's monument last October," Kim said.
|The old house of Choe Jae-hyeong, a successful businessman who financially supported Ahn Jung-geun, underwent renovation recently to become a memorial museum.|
A five-minute drive from the center, there is the old house of Choe Jae-hyeong, a successful businessman who financially supported Ahn.
Moon Andrei, the caretaker of the Choe Jae-hyeong Memorial, said the old house was recently renovated except for the "pechka," a Russian word meaning fireplace. "Pechka" was Choe's nickname as he embraced overseas freedom fighters through providing financial aid and military equipment.
Apart from the memorial hall, there is a screening room where visitors can watch a short film of Choe's life.
"Preserving this old house requires hefty maintenance costs," Moon said. "Starting March, we will collect a 50 ruble entry fees per person per visit."
|Independence activists formed an assembly in this building in 1918 to promote nationhood and self-determination.|
A few blocks away from Choe's house lies a building, in which independence activists formed an assembly in 1918 to promote nationhood and self-determination.
Shortly after the March 1 Independence Movement, they gathered in the building to form the Provisional Government in Russia. The building is now used as a school, but visitors can recognize the place as there is a sign on the wall, commemorating the freedom fighters.
|Yi Sang-sul monument, right, and a monument that honors victims of an April 1920 street battle against the Japanese army in Ussuryisk|
The next monument pays tribute to the late independence activist Yi Sang-sul who died in the city in 1917 due to ill health.
Yi is well-known for serving as ex-Emperor Gojong's confidential emissary to the Second Peace Conference at The Hague in the Netherlands in 1907 along with Yi Jun and Yi Wi-jong.
Another significant monument stands to honor victims of a street battle against the Japanese army in April 1920 in Ussuryisk.
Back then, Japan dispatched troops to Russia in order to eliminate Russian revolutionary forces and Korean independence activists.
At that time, about 300 Koreans were killed and 100 were arrested while Russia suffered more than 5,000 casualties, according to historical records.
|Razdolnoye Station where ethnic Koreans were deported in the late 1930s|
The last stop was Razdolnoye Station where ethnic Koreans were deported.
Under the name of "preventing the Japanese espionage from penetrating into the Primorsky Krai region," Koreans were forcibly sent to Central Asia and settled dugout buildings.
Speaking about the impact of the relocation of ethnic Koreans, Kim recounted the experience of being labeled as "other" and "minority" coming with pain. What is more important to current inhabitants, however, is the importance of remembering and making sure these stories and experiences are preserved.
"In recent years, a few scholars have brought up the idea that the authorities sent ethnic Koreans off courteously, but that is nonsensical," Kim said. "If the forced migration had been done with good intentions, one third of ethnic Koreans wouldn't have lost their lives on their way to Central Asia."
"We, the descendants of ethnic Koreans, want everyone to look back on this anniversary and remember the divine spirit of our ancestors," she added.