The life of pilgrimage for Koreis dates from 1937, when Stalin ordered the minority races in Russia to move out to the wilderness in Central Asia. Every Koreis family was forced to move 6,000 km away from their home, and the journey was about 50 days long. All the people including small children, the elderly, and even pregnant women had to survive the terrible conditions in the train: extremely cold weather, no food, and no toilets. 60 percent of the children died during the journey and after their arrival, 20 percent of the people died due to the bitter cold.
However, the people who survived created "Miracle" in the wilderness. In Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, Koreis made known as smart and diligent people. Since Koreis parents endeavored to educate their children, when the children grew up, they became important members of society. Some became teachers and professors, and others even made their ways to such positions as president of national university and high government officials. Koreis people were excited to see the ray of hope, which had appeared at the end of their wandering lives.
Unfortunately, the history of despair did not end with the first generation. In 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, many colonies in Central Asia became independent. Each country carried out the Compatriot Priority Policy as the first step of their independence. Anyone unable to speak the native language of the newly independent country, which is completely different from the Russian language, was kicked out from their jobs. During this time, most Koreis people were fired because they could only speak Russian. In Tajikistan, a civil war occurred and neighbors and friends of Koreis suddenly turned against them and began to plunder the Koreis town. Again, Koreis families had to wander, looking for a new place to settle down.
Vica Kim (14) and her family were one of them. They moved to Volgograd, Russia in 1997 from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. In recent years, many Koreis from Central Asia gathered in Volgograd and the city is now growing to be the center of Koreis residents with over 20,000 Koreis.
Six years have passed since Vica"s family built a home in Volgograd, and their lives seemed to be quite settled. According to Vica"s uncle Jima Kim(38), Koreiski farmers make their living day by day. He said, "We don"t worry about tomorrow and don"t try to save much money for the future. We earn the money, and spend it right away for day-to-day life." Every morning, Jima drives to a fair in the center of the city to sell onions he reaped the day before.
However, unlike many people would expect, Koreis are neither in endless sorrow nor frustration. Vica said, "I don"t think we"re unhappy. Well, I miss my friends in Uzbek, but I have met many new friends here. My life has changed a bit, but my family is still together and healthy. I"m very grateful." Vica faced many hardships at school when she first moved to Russia. Classmates made fun of her different appearance, saying that she had abnormally narrow eyes and dark skin. Once, she was pushed from the stairs and broke a leg. She had to wear a cast for two months, and was not able to go to school. Vica shows her positive mind by explaining the results: "Well, I felt so angry about the boy who hurt me. I was so mad. But, later it all turned out well. After that, nobody made fun of me and said sorry. Now, many other Koreis kids have come to our school and all the Koreis and Russian kids are good friends with each other."
The members of the Mir team were quite surprised by how well the Koreis seemed to be leading their lives. A member of the Mir team Yoon Sun-kyung (Dongduk Women? U., 4) shares her thoughts: "I was surprised to see how happily Koreis were leading their lives. Even when there is not enough food, laughter and happiness never ran out in their home. I was definitely the wealthiest one among them, but can"t say that I was the happiest. I learned that wealth and happiness don"t necessarily go together." Another member Park Yoo-jung (Soongsil U., 4) says, "People here are really simple and warm-hearted. I thought we came here to help them, but I"m the one who has gained help and valuable experiences by spending my time with them. Here, lives are peaceful."
Although many Koreis can"t speak Korean, and follow Russian customs, their hearts still belong to Korea. Vica"s grandmother Cvata says, "I hope my granddaughter will marry a Koreis guy." She added, "The country I live in now is Russia but I believe that my mother country is still Korea." While their mother country has shown little concern towards its people abroad, Koreis remember Korea. The visit to Russia turned out to be not to give help, but to gain something forgotten for the reporter herself.