Korean diaspora share stories of longing for homeland

Lee Kyung-boon, 95, speaks about her life on Sakhalin Island in a recent video interview conducted by the Overseas Koreans Cooperation Center. Courtesy of Overseas Koreans Cooperation Center

Lee Kyung-boon was born in November 1928 in Sancheong County, South Gyeongsang Province, during Japan’s colonial rule of Korea (1910-45).In 1941, at the age of 13, Lee and her family were relocated to the far-eastern Russian island of Sakhalin, where her father was assigned to work in a coal mine. They were among the 150,000 Koreans who were forcibly moved by Japanese colonizers to the southern part of the island in the 1930s and 1940s, which was then under Japanese control.”It was nice to live with my father… But I was so young I didn’t even know where Sakhalin was. I remember the cold weather and the heavy snow because we first arrived there in February,” Lee recalled.The story of the now 95-year-old was unveiled in a recent video interview conducted by the Overseas Koreans Cooperation Center (OKCC). The OKCC conducted separate interviews with 25 people from Korea’s diaspora including Lee, and the clips were uploaded on its YouTube channel, Monday.During the interview, Lee said she had assumed that her stay on Sakhalin would be short.After Japan’s surrender in World War II in 1945, the Soviet Union took control of Sakhalin. While Sakhalin Koreans were permitted to move to North Korea, a Soviet ally, they were barred from returning to South Korea, which had no diplomatic relations established with the Soviet Union.

“We believed that we would be able to go back home soon. We waited for a year, then another year…” Lee said. “I feared I might be barred from returning to my homeland if I had the nationality of another country. So I chose to live without obtaining a nationality.”Lee and her husband were left stateless for six decades.In 2000, Lee was finally able to return to South Korea through a government resettlement program that facilitated the repatriation of hundreds of elderly Sakhalin Koreans, granting them permanent residency.She is now settled in Incheon, just west of Seoul.”In my homeland, they provided us with such nice homes, and now I can live comfortably without worries. We can finally feel at ease,” Lee said, expressing gratitude for her life in South Korea.According to the OKCC, the interviews with overseas Koreans were conducted between October 2023 and January 2024 as part of the center’s project to mark 100 years of Korean immigration to Sakhalin and 60 years since the immigration of Korean labor migrants to Germany.”The video records of overseas Koreans will help the public better understand the lives of Korea’s diaspora. We plan to continue our projects to ensure that important records of overseas Koreans are well preserved,” said Kim Yeong-geun, 스포츠토토존 head of OKCC.

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