’15,000 Koreans drafted by Soviets during World War II’

April 1, 2015

By Kim Se-jeong

Almost 15,000 ethnic Koreans who lived in Central Asia were conscripted by the Soviet Union during World War II (1941-1945), a new study claims.

Shim Heon-yong, a researcher from the Institute for Military History, said 372 of them volunteered to join the Soviet military; of that number, 195 were killed or disappeared during the war, 50 were undocumented and 127 returned home. Shim will discuss these findings at an academic symposium on Thursday.

“They decided to join the war to survive in a country they had newly settled in,” Shim said. Ethnic Koreans were viewed with skepticism by the Soviet Union and many wanted to fight to show allegiance to their new country. The author said he wrote his study using statistics, documents and news coverage from Central Asian states and Russia, as well as testimonies from those who participated in the war.

A majority of the 372 people were soldiers in the ground war, but there was also a pilot and a spy. Women were among the volunteers. One ballet dancer testified her dancing group traveled from one region to another to entertain the soldiers. Another woman testified she had worked as a nurse.

Shim said the rest were sent to mines and factories, where they manufactured goods and mined coal. A lot of them were workers and students when they were conscripted. Other people were sent to metal mines, petroleum refineries and railway construction sites.

Some were sent to make weapons and tanks, while others collected donations for the war.

The 15,000 were among 170,000 ethnic Koreans who were deported from Siberia and the Russian Far East to Central Asia in 1937. Until the time the war broke out in 1941, many lived without freedom to move between states.

Shim added that some ethnic Koreans were later recognized for their contributions during the war. He wrote that 13 men, who had fought in the battlefield, received medals which helped the entire ethnic Korean community assimilate.

Currently, the population of ethnic Koreans in Central Asia and their descendents is estimated at 500,000. Almost 200,000 are living in Uzbekistan, followed by 125,000 in Russia and 105,000 in Kazakhstan.

One Comment

  1. Edward

    April 2, 2015 at 12:56 PM

    This is what happens when you lose your country as the Koreans did at the turn of the century.

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