|The Shinhanchon Memorial Monument was set up in August 1999 by the Institute of Koreans Abroad to commemorate the history and meaning of the freedom fighters. Korea Times photos by Kwak Yeon-soo|
This is the fifth in a series of articles highlighting overseas independence fighters on the occasion of the centennial of the March 1 Independence Movement ― ED.
By Kwak Yeon-soo
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia ― On a steep hillside in the Russian far eastern city of Vladivostok, three iconic monuments have endured a turbulent history, symbols of Korean identity reminding the public of ethnic Koreans who longed for their homeland's liberation from the 1910-45 Japanese occupation.
The tallest monument that stands in the middle represents South Koreans while the monument on the right represents North Koreans and that on the left side signifies the Korean diaspora scattered all across the world.
In 1863, many Koreans crossed the Tumen River in search of a better life and arrived in the Primorsky Krai region, which sits near the borders of Korea and China.
About 13 Korean households first settled in Tizinhe Village and Yanchihe Village, turning the barren lands into fertile fields with their decades of hard work.
Many anti-imperialist activists, including Choe Jae-hyeong, Ahn Jung-geun, Lee Beom-yun and Yi Wi-jong teamed up to create an organization in Yanchihe Village to fight Japan's annexation.
Righteous Armies leader Yu In-seok lived there too, according to a report published by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs.
Later in 1874, many moved to Vladivostok, the administrative center of Primorsky Krai, where about 7,500 Koreans resided primarily near the Pacific port.
Following an outbreak of cholera in 1911, however, the Russian government forced Koreans to move to the hillside at the eastern edge of Vladivostok in the name of preventing the disease.
There, they built a Korean village called "Shinhanchon," literally New Korea Town, which has since been called a holy place for the Korean independence movement.
|Anti-imperialist activists in Yanchihe Village. Courtesy of Park Hwan|
"Various independence fighters and groups had operated in the area of Shinhanchon," Park Hwan, a professor at the University of Suwon, told The Korea Times. "Most of their activities were armed resistance and they later joined forces with Russian fighters against Japan."
Korean newspapers, publishing houses and schools were founded and the area was used for training and educating young independence fighters.
Although major independence movements had taken place in Shinhanchon, it now bears little evidence that it was once a mecca for freedom fighters.
The Shinhanchon Memorial Monument was set up in August 1999 by the Institute of Koreans Abroad to commemorate the history and meaning of the freedom fighters.
"Not just Koreans but Russians visit to pay respect and gratitude to the independence fighters as well as forced migrants under the Stalin era," said Lee Zinaida, the caretaker of the memorial.
In 1937 when Stalin ruled the Soviet Union, over 170,000 ethnic Koreans in Russia, known as "Koryo saram" or "Koryo-in," were forced onto cargo trains and relocated to Central Asia.
The executive order gave ethnic Koreans only a 24-hour warning. They hurriedly packed their belongings and left their hometown without any idea of whether they were heading.
The engraved letters of the monument reads: "Koreans had been unfortunately taken out of the country and dispersed elsewhere." It doesn't use the expression "forcibly moved" or "deported."
"It is highly likely that Russian government refused to engrave controversial words on monuments because they didn't want the negative image those words would create regarding Soviet authorities," said Kwak Se-la, a Korean guide who lives in Vladivostok.
|The house, which is the only remaining historical trace that shows Koreans have lived in this region as early as the 1910s, has an address sign "Seoulskaya 2A" or Seoul Street 2A.|
Just a few blocks from the Shinhanchon Memorial Monument is a single house, alone between Russian apartments, that shows signs that Koreans had lived there.
The house underwent a partial renovation recently, but the address sign "Seoulskaya 2A" or Seoul Street 2A by which people can recognize the house and the area, is still attached to the fence.
This house is the only remaining trace of historical records in the city Vladivostok that shows Koreans have lived in this region as early as the 1910s.
|A picture of the house before undergoing a partial renovation|
"However, I sometimes think it would've been better if the Korean government purchased the house from the previous owner and preserved it as it is because this house is part of Korean history."
|Anti-Japan resistance writer Cho Myung-hee's monument|
The next place that draws visitors' attention is writer Cho Myung-hee's monument. Cho was a resistance poet and used literature to protest Japanese colonial rule after he defected to Russia in 1928.
His first published the poetry "Downtrodden Korea" which inspired independence activists and strengthened the solidarity among ethnic Koreans in Russia to fight Japan's brutal colonial rule.