Total population
About 500,000
Regions with significant populations
Ukraine Ukraine12,711[5]
Russian, Koryo-mar
Orthodox Christianity along with Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism, Islam and others[10]
Related ethnic groups
Koreans, Sakhalin Koreans
Korean name
South Korean name
Russian name
RussianКорё сарам
RomanizationKoryo saram

Koryo-saram (Koryo-mar: 고려사람 / Корё сарам; Russian: Корё сарам; Ukrainian: Корьо-сарам; Uzbek: Корё-сарам / Koryo-saram) or Koryoin (Korean: 고려인) are ethnic Koreans in the post-Soviet states that descend from Koreans who were living in the Russian Far East.

In 1937, the Korean population in the Russian Far East was forced to migrate to Central Asia. A number of early Koryo-saram were significant Korean independence activists during the Japanese colonial period, such as Hong Beom-do and Chŏng Sang-chin. They have since dispersed throughout the former Soviet Union, with populations in Siberia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and more.

Approximately 500,000 ethnic Koreans reside in the former Soviet Union, primarily in the now-independent states of Central Asia. There are also large Korean communities in Southern Russia (around Volgograd), Russian Far East (around Vladivostok), the Caucasus and southern Ukraine. While the ability to speak Korean has become increasingly rare amongst current Koryo-saram, they have retained some elements of Korean culture, including Korean names. Koryo-saram cuisine has become popular throughout the former Soviet Union, with the dish morkovcha now widely available in grocery stores there. A significant number of Koryo-saram have either moved temporarily or permanently to South Korea for economic or cultural reasons. The Russo-Ukrainian War, especially the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, has motivated several thousand Korean Ukrainians to move to South Korea for safety.[11][12]

There is also a separate ethnic Korean community on the island of Sakhalin, typically referred to as Sakhalin Koreans. Some may identify as Koryo-saram, but many do not. This has led to the term materikovye (материковые) for Koryo-saram, meaning "continental Koreans".[13] Unlike the communities on the Russian mainland primarily descended from Koreans who arrived in the late 19th century and early 20th century, the ancestors of the Sakhalin Koreans were immigrants from Japanese Korea, mostly from the southern provinces, in the late 1930s and early 1940s. They were forced into service by the Japanese government to work in coal mines in what was then Karafuto Prefecture, in order to fill labor shortages caused by the Pacific War.[14]


The term by which they refer to themselves is composed of two Korean words: "Koryo", a historical name for Korea, and "saram", meaning "person" or "people".[a]

The word Koryo in "Koryo-saram" originated from the name of the Goryeo (Koryŏ) Dynasty from which "Korea" was also derived. The name Soviet Korean was also used, more frequently before the collapse of the Soviet Union.[15] Russians may also lump Koryo-saram under the general label koreytsy (корейцы); however, this usage makes no distinctions between ethnic Koreans of the local nationality and the Korean nationals (citizens of North Korea or South Korea).

In Standard Korean, the term "Koryo-saram" is typically used to refer to historical figures from the Goryeo dynasty;[16] to avoid ambiguity, Korean speakers use a word Goryeoin (고려인; 高麗人, meaning the same as "Koryo-saram") to refer to ethnic Koreans in the post-Soviet states.[14] However, the Sino-Korean morpheme "-in" (; ) is not productive in Koryo-mal, the dialect spoken by Koryo-saram and as a result, only a few (mainly those who have studied Standard Korean) refer to themselves by this name; instead, "Koryo-saram" has come to be the preferred term.[17]


Immigration to the Russian Far East and Siberia

The early 19th century saw the decline of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea. A small population of wealthy elite owned the farmlands in the country, and poor peasants found it difficult to survive. Koreans leaving the country in this period were obliged to move toward Russia, as the border with China was sealed by the Qing Dynasty.[18] However, the first Koreans in the Russian Empire, 761 families totalling 5,310 people, had actually migrated to Qing territory; the land they had settled on was ceded to Russia by the Convention of Peking in 1860.[19] Many peasants considered Siberia to be a land where they could lead better lives, and so they subsequently migrated there. According to Russian sources early as 1863, 13 Korean households were recorded in Posyet, near Bay of Novgorod.[b][20] These numbers rose dramatically, and by 1869 Koreans composed 20% of the population of the Primorsky Krai.[18] Prior to the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway, Koreans outnumbered Russians in the Russian Far East; the local governors encouraged them to naturalize.[21] The village of Blagoslovennoe was founded in 1870 by Korean migrants.[22] Another Korean village near Zolotoy Rog that Russians called Koreyskaya slabodka (Корейская слабодка, literally means Korean village) and what Koreans called "Gaecheok-ri" (開拓里,개척리) was officially recognized by the Vladivostok authorities.[20][c] The 1897 Russian Empire Census found 26,005 Korean speakers (16,225 men and 9,780 women) in the whole of Russia.[23]

In the early 20th century, both Russia and Korea came into conflict with Japan. Following the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1907, Russia enacted an anti-Korean law at the behest of Japan, under which the land of Korean farmers was confiscated and Korean labourers were laid off.[24] However, Korean migration to Russia continued to grow; 1914 figures showed 64,309 Koreans (among whom 20,109 were Russian citizens). Even the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution did nothing to slow migration; after the repression of the 1919 March 1st Movement in Japanese-colonised Korea, migration actually intensified.[22] Korean leaders in Vladivostok's Shinhanchon (literally, "New Korean Village") neighbourhood also provided support to the independence movement, making it a centre for nationalist activities, including arms supply; the Japanese attacked it on 4 April 1920, leaving hundreds dead.[25] By 1923, the Korean population in the Soviet Union had grown to 106,817. The following year, the Soviets began taking measures to control Korean population movement to their territory; however, they were not completely successful until 1931; after that date, they halted all migration from Korea and required existing migrants to naturalise as Soviet citizens.[22]

The Soviet policy of korenizatsiya (indigenisation) resulted in the creation of 105 Korean village soviets (councils) in mixed-nationality raion, as well as an entire raion for the Korean nationality, the Pos'et Korean National Raion; these conducted their activities entirely in the Korean language. The Soviet Koreans had a large number of their own official institutions, including 380 Korean schools, two teachers' colleges, one pedagogical school, three hospitals, a theatre, six journals, and seven newspapers (the largest of which, Vanguard, had a circulation of 10,000). The 1937 Census showed 168,259 Koreans in the Soviet Union. However, officials in the Russian Far East viewed the Koreans' ethnic and family ties to the Japanese Empire with suspicion, which would soon set the stage for the deportation of the whole population.[22]

Deportation to Central Asia

Main article: Deportation of Koreans in the Soviet Union

In 1937, facing reports from the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) that there were possibilities that Japanese would have infiltrate the Russian Far East by means of ethnic Korean spies, Joseph Stalin and Vyacheslav Molotov signed Resolution 1428-326 ss, "On the Exile of the Korean Population from border Raions of the Far East Kray", on 21 August.[26] According to the report of Nikolai Yezhov, 36,442 Korean families totalling 171,781 persons were deported by 25 October.[27] The deported Koreans faced difficult conditions in Central Asia: monetary assistance promised by the government never materialised, and furthermore, most of the deported were rice farmers and fishermen, who had difficulty adapting to the arid climate of their new home. Estimates based on population statistics suggest that 40,000 deported Koreans died in 1937 and 1938 for these reasons.[28] Nonetheless, the deportees cooperated to build irrigation works and start rice farms; within three years, they had recovered their original standard of living.[29]

The events of this period led to the formation of a cohesive identity among the Korean deportees.[29] However, in schools for Soviet Korean children, the government switched Korean language from being the medium of instruction to being taught merely as a second language in 1939, and from 1945 stopped it from being taught entirely; furthermore, the only publication in the Korean language was the Lenin Kichi (now called Koryo Ilbo). As a result, subsequent generations lost the use of the Korean language, which J. Otto Pohl described as "emasculat[ing] the expression of Korean culture in the Soviet Union.[30] Up until the era of glasnost, it was not permitted to speak openly of the deportations.[14]

Liberation and division of Korea

During the August to September 1945 Soviet military campaign to liberate Korea, Koryo-saram Chŏng Sang-chin was the only ethnic Korean who had a combat role on the Soviet side. He notably participated in the Seishin Operation.[31][32] Chŏng and a number of other Koryo-saram joined North Korea after the division of Korea. Some Koryo-saram, including Pak Chang-ok, became key figures in that government, where they formed a faction of Soviet Koreans.[32] However, in the mid-1950s, Kim Il Sung purged many Soviet-aligned Korean people, which led to the expulsion of a number of Koryo-saram from the North. Several of them, including Chŏng, returned to Central Asia and continued writing for the Lenin Kichi.[32]

Current status

Scholars estimated[when?] that roughly 470,000 Koryo-saram were living in the Commonwealth of Independent States.[citation needed]


Viktor Tsoi, singer and songwriter who co-founded Kino, one of the most popular and musically influential bands in the history of Russian music

The 2002 census gave a population of 148,556 Koreans in Russia, of which 75,835 were male and 72,721 female.[33] More than half were living in Asian Russia. Meanwhile, the 2010 census gave a population of 153,156 Koreans in Russia, this time more than half were living in European Russia instead, but Russian Far East remained the federal district with highest number of Koreans. The Korean population there trace their roots back to a variety of sources. Aside from roughly 33,000 CIS nationals, mostly migrants retracing in reverse the 1937 deportation of their ancestors, between 4,000 and 12,000 North Korean migrant labourers can be found in the region. Smaller numbers of South Koreans and ethnic Koreans from China have also come to the region to settle, invest, and/or engage in cross-border trade.[34]

Russian Federation 148,556 153,156
Number by federal districts
Central Federal District 16,720 21,779
Northwestern Federal District 6,903 7,000
Southern Federal District 39,031 40,191
Volga Federal District 9,088 12,215
Ural Federal District 4,071 3,805
Siberian Federal District 10,797 11,193
Far Eastern Federal District 61,946 56,973


Main article: Koreans in Ukraine

Oleksandr Sin, a mayor of Zaporizhia

In the 2001 census in Ukraine 12,711 people defined themselves as ethnic Koreans, up from 8,669 in 1989. Of these only 17.5% gave Korean as their native language. The majority (76%) named Russian as their native language, while 5.5% named Ukrainian.[37] The largest concentrations can be found in Kharkiv, Kyiv, Odesa, Mykolaiv, Cherkasy, Lviv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Dnipro, Zaporizhia and Crimea. The largest ethnic representative body, the Association of Koreans in Ukraine, is located in Kharkiv, where roughly 150 Korean families reside; the first Korean language school was opened in 1996 under their direction.[38][39] Some of the most famous Korean-Ukrainians are Vitalii Kim, current governor of Mykolaiv Oblast, Pavlo Lee, actor killed in Russo-Ukrainian war, and Oleksandr Sin, former mayor of Zaporizhzhia.[40] After 2001, many Koreans migrated into Ukraine from Central Asia.[citation needed]

Central Asia

Boris Yugai, a Kyrgyzstani Major General, was a notable member of the Koryo-saram community in Kyrgyzstan.

The majority of Koryo-saram in Central Asia reside in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Korean culture in Kazakhstan is centered in Almaty, the former capital. For much of the 20th century, this was the only place in Central Asia where a Korean language newspaper (the Koryo Ilbo) and Korean language theater (Korean Theatre of Kazakhstan) were in operation.[41] The censuses of Kazakhstan recorded 96,500 Koryo-saram in 1939, 74,000 in 1959, 81,600 in 1970, 92,000 in 1979, 100,700 in 1989, and 99,700 in 1999.[42]

In Kyrgyzstan, the population has remained roughly stable over the past three censuses: 18,355 (1989), 19,784 (1999), and 17,299 (2009).[43] This contrasts sharply with other non-indigenous groups such as Germans, many of whom migrated to Germany after the breakup of the Soviet Union. South Korea never had any programme to promote return migration of their diaspora in Central Asia, unlike Germany. However, they have established organisations to promote Korean language and culture, such as the Korean Centre of Education which opened in Bishkek in 2001. South Korean Christian missionaries are also active in the country.[44]

The population in Uzbekistan is largely scattered in rural areas. This population has suffered in recent years from linguistic handicaps, as the Koryo-saram there spoke Russian but not Uzbek. After the independence of Uzbekistan, many lost their jobs due to being unable to speak the national language. Some emigrated to the Russian Far East, but found life difficult there as well.[45]

There is also a small Korean community in Tajikistan. Mass settlement of Koreans in the country began during the late 1950s and early 1960s, after the loosening of restrictions on their freedom of movement which had previously kept them confined to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Pull factors for migration included rich natural resources and a relatively mild climate. Their population grew to 2,400 in 1959, 11,000 in 1979 and 13,000 in 1989; most lived in the capital Dushanbe, with smaller concentrations in Qurghonteppa and Khujand. Like Koreans in other parts of Central Asia, they generally possessed higher incomes compared to members of other ethnic groups. However, with the May 1992 onset of civil war in Tajikistan, many fled the country; by 1996, their population had fallen by over half to 6,300 people.[46] Most are engaged in agriculture and retail business.[47] Violence continued even after the end of the civil war; in 2000, suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir members exploded a bomb in a Korean Christian church in Dushanbe, killing 9 and wounding 30.[48]

Return migration to Korea

Community centers for Gwangju Koryoin Village, which is one of the largest ethnic enclaves of Koryo-saram in South Korea.[49] (2022)

There was some minor return migration of Soviet Koreans to Korea in the first half of the 20th century. They formed 4 main groups: those sent for intelligence work during the Japanese colonial period, the Red Army personnel who arrived in 1945–1946, civilian advisors and teachers who arrived in the northern half of the peninsula in 1946–1948 and individuals who repatriated from the Soviet Union to North Korea for personal reasons.[50] Though it was common in most of the newly socialist countries of the Eastern Bloc to receive Soviet-educated personnel who were from the country or had ancestral ethnic connections there, in North Korea such returned members of national diaspora played a more important role than in other countries.[51]

Later, labour migration to South Korea would grow to a large size. As of 2005, as many as 10,000 Uzbekistani nationals worked in South Korea, with most of them being ethnic Koreans. It is estimated that remittances from South Korea to Uzbekistan exceed $100 million annually.[52]

A number of Koryo-saram communities now exist in South Korea, including Ttaetgol Village,[53] Gwangju Koryoin Village,[54] Hambak Village,[55] and Central Asia Street in Seoul.[56] Several of these communities are also host to Russian speakers of other ethnicities.[55] Another is Texas Street, which was once a red-light district for American servicemembers, and is now host to both Russian and Koryo-saram communities.[57]

Koryo-saram have consistently reported feeling social isolation or even employment discrimination[58] when in Korea.[59][60] These issues have caused many to return to Central Asia.[58][failed verification] The experience of returnees has been portrayed in media, such as the 2011 film Hanaan, by Koryo-saram director Ruslan Pak.[59]


Religion of Koryo-saram

  Christianity (49.35%)
  Atheism (28.51%)
  Buddhism (11.4%)
  Islam (5.24%)
  Judaism (0.21%)
  Others (0.14%)
  Not Answered (5.16%)

After their arrival in Central Asia, the Koryo-saram quickly established a way of life different from that of neighbouring peoples. They set up irrigation works and became known throughout the region as rice farmers.[29] They interacted little with the nomadic peoples around them and focused on education. Although they soon ceased to wear traditional Korean clothing, they adopted Western-style dress rather than the clothing worn by the Central Asian peoples.[61]

The ritual life of the Koryo-saram community has changed in various respects. Marriages have taken on the Russian style.[62] At Korean traditional funerals, the coffin is taken out of the house either through the window or a single door threshold; however, if there is more than one door threshold on the way out (e.g. in modern multi-stories buildings), three notches are made on each threshold.[63][64] The name of the dead is traditionally written in hanja; however, as hardly anyone is left among the Koryo-saram who can write in hanja, the name is generally written in hangul only. On the other hand, the rituals for the first birthday and sixtieth anniversary have been preserved in their traditional form.[65]


Main article: Koryo-saram cuisine

Morkovcha (Korean carrot salad)

The cuisine of the Koryo-saram is closest to that of the Hamgyong provinces in North Korea and is dominated by meat soups and salty side dishes.[62] It uses similar cooking techniques but is adapted to local ingredients, which resulted in invention of new dishes. One well-known example is morkovcha, a variant of kimchi that uses carrots. It has become popular in many parts of the former Soviet Union.[66][67]

Other examples of dishes include pyanse, kuksu, funchoza,[68][69] timpeni, khe, chartagi, kadi che (가지채), kosari che, chirgym che, siryak-tyamuri,[70] and kadyuri.[citation needed]

Personal and family names

See also: List of Korean family names and Cyrillization of Korean

Many Korean surnames, when Cyrillized, are spelled and pronounced slightly differently from the romanisations used in the U.S. and the resulting common pronunciations, as can be seen in the table at right. Some surnames of Koryo-saram have a particle "gai" added to them, such as Kogai or Nogai. The origin of this is unclear.[71] The introduction of international passports by newly independent CIS countries, resulted in further differences in pronunciation as Korean surnames had to be transliterated from Cyrillic into Latin. In addition to a surname, Koreans also use clan names (known as bon-gwan in Korea and pronounced as пой among Koryo-saram) denoting the place of origin.[72]

Korean naming practices and Russian naming practices are different – Koryo-saram use Russian name practices, but Korean surnames and sometimes Korean names. But most often Christian names are used from the saints of the Russian Orthodox Church, typical for Russians.


This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources in this section. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Koryo-saram" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (February 2024) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

Legislation of the Russian Empire in issuing documents required the father's name.

Koreans began with the use of patronymics that were formed from the Korean names of their fathers. Over time, as the proportion of Christians increased, Koreans were given, in accordance with the tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church, names from the general list of revered saints.

Currently, 80% of Koryo-saram have a record of their Korean names. This differs from the pattern typical in the US, where Korean American parents often register their children with a Korean given name as their legal middle name (e.g. Daniel Dae Kim, Harold Hongju Koh).

Surnames of married women

See also: Married and maiden names § Russia and some Slavic countries

In Korea, until the 20th century, women were generally called by their family name. Nobles received as a pseudo-name the name of the estate in which they lived and this did not change when getting married.

The preservation of his wife's name has been preserved as a tradition among modern Koreans, after women began to be given names.

The Koreans began to migrate to the Russian Empire in 1864 long before women were allowed to be given names in modern Korean tradition in Korea.

Legislation of the Russian Empire required the mandatory presence of the surname of the name and patronymic name for everyone. Including poor serf wives. When they were married they were given the surname of the husband, a patronymic formed on behalf of the father and given a name from the Sviatcy (List of names of saints of the Orthodox Church).

Generation names

In Korea, it is common for siblings and cousins of the same generation to have one hanja syllable in common among all of their names; this is known as dollimja. Russians have no equivalent practice, although they do have patronyms which the Koryo-saram have for the most part adopted. Therefore, Koryo-saram do not use generation names. They use, depending on religion, either a name from Sviatcy or a name arbitrarily chosen from the hanja character used in Korea to form names.


Main article: Koryo-mar

Languages among the Soviet Union's Korean population[73]
1970 1979 1989
Total population 357,507 388,926 438,650
Korean L1 245,076 215,504 216,811
Russian L1 111,949 172,710 219,953
Russian L2 179,776 185,357 189,929
Other L2 6,034 8,938 16,217

Due to deportation and the continuing urbanization of the population after 1952, the command of Korean among the Koryo-saram has continued to fall. This contrasts with other more rural minority groups such as the Dungan, who have maintained a higher level of proficiency in their ethnic language. In 1989, the most recent year for which data are available, the number of Russian mother tongue speakers among the Koryo-saram population overtook that of Korean mother tongue speakers.


There are a number of places in multiple countries that can be visited to learn about Koryo-saram history and culture. Korean Cultural Centers throughout the former Soviet Union, such as the one in Ussuriysk, Russia, offer cultural experiences and sometimes museums on Koryo-saram and Korean history.[74][75] In Kazakhstan there is a number of places. In Ushtobe, there is a Kazakhstan–Korea Friendship Park that marks where the Koryo-saram first settled in Kazakhstan. It has a Korean cemetery and memorials for Koryo-saram figures.[76][77] Also in Ushtobe, the Karatal Korean History Center has a museum with authentic houses and historical materials on display.[78] In Almaty, there is the Korean Theatre, where one can watch plays in Korean with Russian subtitles.[79] In South Korea, one can visit the various enclaves they live in, as well as visit a history museum in Gwangju Koryoin Village.[80][81] In New York City, United States, the restaurant Cafe Lily is operated by Koryo-saram, and serves Koryo-saram cuisine.[82] Near Cafe Lily is the All Nations Baptist Church, a Russian-speaking Christian church for Koryo-saram.[83]

See also


  1. ^ Nouns in Korean do not inflect for number unless it is needed to avoid ambiguity, therefore "saram" translates as either "person" or "people" depending on context.
  2. ^ Old name of Posyet at the date of foundation in 1860 was Novgorodsky Posyet. The korean source says it is Novgorod bay, however by context, it means Novgorodsky bay, which can be translated as bay of Novgorod by the Russian "-sky".
  3. ^ The region already had a Korean house in 1874, and was the biggest Korean village among the 7 villages recorded in the 1907 Russian census. The town was abandoned after the 1911 order by the Russian authorities due to cholera concerns. and the old town became the new base for the Russian Kazakh military.


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Further reading

Census data