Russians in Korea

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Russians in Korea
Total population
Total population not known
Regions with significant populations
 South Korea 30,098(2016)[1][2][3]
 North Korea Unknown
Russian, Korean
Russian Orthodox Church
Related ethnic groups
Russians in Japan

Russians in Korea do not form a very large population, but they have a history going back to the Korean Empire. The community of Russian subjects/citizens in Korea has historically included not just ethnic Russians, but members of minority groups of Russia as well, such as Tatars, Poles, and, more recently, return migrants from among the Koryo-saram (ethnic Koreans whose ancestors migrated to the Russian Far East in the late 19th century) and Sakhalin Koreans.[4]

Migration history[edit]

Early history[edit]

The old Russian legation building in Seoul

The earliest Russian subject in Korea is believed to have been Afanasy Ivanovich Seredin-Sabatin (Афанасий Иванович Середин-Сабатин), an architect from a family of Swiss origin; he was invited to Korea from Tianjin, China in 1884 by King Gojong. Karl Ivanovich Weber became the Russian Empire's official representative in Seoul in April 1885.[5] With the establishment of formal relations, more Russians began migrating into Korea throughout the 1890s, largely via Manchuria. At that time, the community was centred on the Russian legation, opened in 1890, and the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Nicholas, opened in 1903, both located in Seoul's Jeongdong (located in present-day Jung-gu). The Russian community in these days was composed largely of missionaries, diplomats, and businessmen; Russia played an important role in the Korean politics of the era, and at one point, Gojong actually lived in the Russian compound, in fear of his life after the 1895 assassination of his wife Queen Min. However, with Russia's defeat in the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, Russian influence in Korea began to wane.[6]

The 1922 influx of Russian refugees from the fall of Vladivostok to the Red Army would completely change the face of the community.[7] In October of that year, more than 15,000 refugees landed at Wonsan, Kangwon-do. Roughly half were quickly able to obtain onward passage to Shanghai, but the refugees who had not taken valuables with them when fleeing Vladivostok were stuck in Wonsan for the winter; they relied on charitable donations and day labour for their survival. According to William Arthur Noble, an American missionary in Korea, no more than 20% were literate; they lived either on overcrowded ships, or in barely heated customs warehouses at the docks.[8] In the spring of 1923, the refugees began to disperse, moving on to Harbin, where there was a significant community of Russians, or even to overseas destinations in Latin America.[9]

In February 1925, Japan finally recognised the Soviet Union, and handed over the old Russian Legation building to the new Soviet ambassador. By the late 1920s, there were only around a hundred Russians living in Seoul; former nobles and officials lived in Jeongdong, while a community of Tatars lived and worked in the markets near Namdaemun and Honmachi (modern-day Myeongdong). However, due to class divisions within the community, the two groups had little interaction with each other.[10] George Yankovsky, the grandson of a Polish noble exiled to Siberia, also maintained a resort in Chongjin which was popular among the Russian communities of East Asia, but virtually unknown to other westerners; when the Soviets invaded North Korea, most of the Russians still living there were arrested and forcibly repatriated to the Soviet Union.[11]

Post-colonial era[edit]

New Russian communities have formed in various cities in South Korea. In Seoul, a "Little Russia" began to form in Jung-gu's Gwanghui-dong, near Dongdaemun, in the late 1980s. Roughly 50,000 people from post-Soviet states were estimated to live in the area in 2004, down from 70,000 several years previously due to deportations of illegal immigrants.[4] In Busan, Russians are concentrated in the former "Texas Town" in Jung-gu's Jungang-dong; roughly 200 are estimated to live in the city permanently, with several hundred more on short-term visas, along with a large transient population of Russian sailors.[12]


Orthodox Church in Seoul, Korea

In 1956, cut off from church authorities in their homeland, the remaining Russian Orthodox believers in Seoul merged with the Korean Orthodox Church, a branch of the Greek Orthodox Church; by 1984, only one of the pre-war Russian communicants remained.[13][14] In the 1990s, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia established a mission in South Korea. Both the Korean Orthodox Church and the Korean ROCOR mission serve mostly ethnic Korean believers, though they are open to people of all ethnicities.

Russians in Pyongyang have sometimes been served by Orthodox clergy sent from Vladivostok since 2002.[15] A Russian Orthodox church was opened in Pyongyang in 2004 at the order of Kim Jong-il after his visit to the church of Innocent of Irkutsk in Khabarovsk.[16]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^
  2. ^ "Official Korean Website". Retrieved 2016-11-22.  as cited by
  3. ^ "Number of foreign residents in S. Korea triples over ten years". Retrieved 2016-11-22. 
  4. ^ a b "A taste of Russia in heart of Seoul", JoongAng Daily, 2004-11-08, archived from the original on 2008-06-12, retrieved 2007-05-28 
  5. ^ Volkov 2004
  6. ^ Clark 1994, pp. 41–42
  7. ^ Lankov, Andrei (2003-10-08), "The Dawn of Modern Korea: Russian Immigrants", Empas News, retrieved 2007-05-25 
  8. ^ Clark 1994, p. 43
  9. ^ Clark 1994, p. 44
  10. ^ Clark 1994, p. 45
  11. ^ Clark 1994, pp. 48–52
  12. ^ Kirk, Don (1999-12-01), "In Korea, 'Texas Town' Goes Russian", International Herald Tribune, retrieved 2007-05-28 
  13. ^ Clark 1994, p. 53
  14. ^ Kang, Fr. Justin Tae-Yong (2005-05-01), Brief history and present status of Russian Orthodox missions in Korea, Korean Orthodox Mission, Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, retrieved 2007-05-28 
  15. ^ "Russian Orthodox Christians celebrate Pentecost in Pyongyang",, 2007-05-26, retrieved 2007-05-28 
  16. ^ "Русский священник в Пхеньяне радуется за северокорейцев - жить сложно, но они истинные патриоты",, 2010-08-24, retrieved 2010-09-06 
  17. ^ 러시아서 귀화한 블라디미르 사벨리예프 박사


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]