HomeCommunityKorean Americans from Russia form Thriving Community in New York

Korean Americans from Russia form Thriving Community in New York

Koryo SaramBy Rabiul Arreef
Asian American Life Intern

In parts of Brooklyn and Queens in New York City, you would be more than likely to meet a group of people, called Koryo Saram, Koreans from the former Soviet Union, who immigrated to the United States about twenty years ago.

Their history goes way back. During the 1880’s, facing a famine in their country, Koreans moved to Far East Russia seeking better opportunities. There was another big wave of Korean migration into Russia in 1910 after the Japanese annexation of Korea. While the Koryo Saram community grew in Russia, Stalin’s suspicion of them grew too. Russia was at war with Japan, and Stalin believed there was no difference between Koreans and the Japanese. Stalin forced the Korean community out of Russia and sent them into central Asia. Historians consider this to be the first ethnic cleansing of the 20th century.

“Every Korean due to their race was taken out of that area by train and were dispersed throughout Uzbekistan and Kirgizstan,” according to University of Michigan Professor David Chung. “There were groups of 40,000 and 30,000 in some areas, they had nothing, they had no buildings, they dug holes to live in the ground and they survived like that for 2 or 3 years, many thousands died during the first couple of winters.”

Those who stayed behind were stripped of their Korean heritage and forced to work as farmers in barren land in Russian regions.

Once relocated to Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, Koryo Saram faced many economic and social challenges. Destitute and looking for respite they found a way to come to America.

“Many Koreans, they won the green card lottery, they are trying to come to America. After Gorbechav, 2001,2002, its very difficult time for Koreans. Economy down, no jobs, no money, and they trying to come ot America,” said Leonid Kim, a Koryo Saram pastor for All Nations Baptist Church.

After immigrating to America, Koryo Saram faced new challenges as well. These challenges ranged from language barriers to questions of their heritage and self-identity. Yuliya Kim, a first generation Koryo Saram said, “ The Korean community is not going to support us because we’re not that Korean. There’s always been a distrust with Russian communities too because we’re not entirely Russian.”

Watch our segment on Koryo Saram here:

Watch our complete April show here:

Asian American Life is five-time Emmy nominated magazine show produced by CUNY-TV in New York.


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  1. RE: Korean Americans from Russia form Thriving Community in New York: Thanks what a wonderful piece. Love to read historical facts like these of courage, strength and determination.


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