Ethnic Koreans in Ukraine major issue for Ukraine’s top resident envoy

[This story was written originally for The Korea Times on Feb. 22, 2012.]

Ukraine’s new envoy in Korea said his country considers the status of ethnic Koreans a major bilateral issue and his country is working to “further legalize their status.”

“Ukrainian Government has established a Special Committee on ethnic Koreans. Seven meetings of the Committee have taken place since its establishment in early 2007,” said incoming Ukrainian Ambassador to Korea Vasyl Marmazov.

Marmazov arrived in Korea on Oct. 25 and presented his Letter of Credence to President Lee Myung-bak in a ceremony at Chong Wa Dae, Nov. 25.

Viktor Tsoi is easily the most recognizable goryo-saram in Ukraine. He was a pioneer in rock in the 1970s and 1980s when Ukraine was a part of the USSR. He fronted the band Kino. Even today he is regarded as a Russian rock legend and has many devoted fans across East Europe and the CIS countries.

“A pilot project aimed at surveying ethnic Koreans living in southern regions of Ukraine has been conducted in order to further legalize their stay in Ukraine, he said.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Korea and Ukraine. Both governments are celebrating the milestone year with cultural events.

“As it is known, at present more than 30,000 of ethnic Koreans live in Ukraine. Governments of both countries entered into constructive cooperation on solving the current issues of their residence.”

The majority of ethnic Koreans, so-called “goryo saram,” are not citizens of Korea and many are not documented descendants lacking legal status required to become citizens of Ukraine.

Ethnic Koreans in Ukraine were part of a large group that had fled the former Soviet Union, many from central Asia, at the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, and entered newborn states. They were forcibly re-located to central Asia from the Russian Far East during Stalin’s reign in the 1930s.

The Korean government maintains the treatment of ethnic Koreans in former Soviet Union states as top agenda item when high-level Korean and Ukrainian officials meet for political consultations.

Prime Minister Kim Hwang-Sik did so when he visited Ukraine in September 2011.
“He met with representatives of Korean diaspora living in Ukraine and positively assessed the efforts of the Ukrainian authorities in this sphere. Ukraine will continue to support ethnic Koreans living in Ukraine,” Marmazov said.

Ukraine has taken steps to legalize their status, but some in Ukraine there oppose the move, calling it an amnesty, obstructing government policy from moving forward quickly.