Posts tagged Koreans

“Despite Anything” – Yelena’s Narrative

Koreans have been living at the territory of Post Soviet Union for more than 100 years and about 70 years in Central Asia and Kazakhstan.

The 1930s – Deportation

I have grandfathers from my mother’s, father’s and step-father’s sides. All of them told me the same story about deportation of Soviet Koreans from the territory near the border between Korea and Russia in the Far East to Central Asia and Kazakhstan. They said, “Before the 1930s our fathers and grandfathers lived near the border. We were free in changing place of living but preferred to stay in the areas where there were a lot of Koreans. All the families were busy with farming or merchandising. Some of Koreans were richer than other but there were no beggars among us. We were deported without any warning. It was announced that we couldn’t take any property with us except the papers and personal things and we had only few hours to collect them. Koreans were moved by trains from Far East in wagons mean for cattle transportation. Along the way a lot of them died. Sick people and dead men were thrown out of the wagons by the guards without any permission to treat or just to bury them.  After the arrival our people were left in villages, collective farms or in steppes without any houses for living. Koreans had to live in stated districts far from the big cities. Until Stalin died in 1953 Koreans didn’t have any right to get university degree or to serve in Military because they were considered officially as possible enemies of Soviet People.”

The1940s – World War II

During the WWII most of Soviet Koreans lived in Central Asia and Kazakhstan. These parts of USSR were not available for the German Army. My grand grandparents lived there in safety but under pressure of blame and shame. My grandfather said, “Every man was recruited by Military Force except us and some other nationalities. USSR was our motherland and we wanted to protect it, but we were considered as potential spies and unreliable persons. It was the most humiliating part of your grand grandfather’s life.”

The 1950s – Role of Sex Gender

My grandmother told me the story which indicates the importance of male gender in the past. She said, “In 1955 we worked on the fields and grew onions in Uzbekistan. Those fields were very far from any village or town and there were no hospitals, train stations and phones. My six month old daughter (my mother) had the flue and the high temperature. She cried but I couldn’t do anything because we don’t have any drugs. My husband was ill too, he had serious problem with his stomach and I thought that he was dying. He couldn’t eat or even move because of his pain. There were no one next to us and I decided to leave my husband and two sons (2 and 3 years old) home alone in order to call a doctor. I couldn’t leave my daughter because she could bother him by her crying.” My grandmother had to walk about 70 kilometers to the nearest village’s hospital. During all the way she carried the child on her back. She said “I cried while walking because my daughter felt bad and it seemed that she stopped breathing.  I couldn’t make myself check her because I was afraid to see that my baby is dead.”  When she reached the hospital in the midnight doctor told her that she had to make the choice between her daughters’s and husband’s lives. Both of then needed urgent medical treatment but if he spent an hour to save the child he couldn’t help her husband in time, because that doctor was the only one in the village. Grandmother said “I chose my husband because he was the man and head of family. I sacrificed my baby although I knew that my husband could already be died. My hard was bleeding. It was the hardest decision and the most terrible day in my life.”

The 2000s – Family’s Philosophy

Despite any obstacles and difficulties every generation of my family finishes its life among wealthy and respectable children. My grandmother said me, “All our life is a test and any obstacle is the possibility you must use to form your character and improve your skills. It doesn’t matter what kind of political regime is in your country but it’s more important what kind of person you are.  In any society at the end of his life a human being has got what he deserved.”

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“Great Patriotic War” According to Whom?

Great Patriots

On a wall of our hallowed halls of academia in Almaty, Kazakhstan are photos which depict “patriots” who served on the Front of the “Great Patriotic War.”  We, as westeners, know it simply as World War II and did not buy into the coinage of these words promoted by Stalin’s propaganda machine.  The root word in Russian for “Fatherland” seems interchangeable with “father” and “patriot.”

What seems a paradox to me is that Kazakhs have a deep and abiding love for their forefathers.  To be a good Kazakh means you know your ancestral line seven generations back and can recite their names.  (I’ve met some Kazakhs who are proud to know the names going back 11 generations.)   Anyway, I’ve been recently reading journal articles concerning the deportation of nationalities into Kazakhstan, thanks to Stalin’s edict.  Better felt as a “deportation dumpground” because of the mixture of Korean, Ukrainian, German, Russian into the different tribes of Kazakhs. 

Currently over 100 nationalities are represented in Kazakhstan but decades ago some of these were people who were yanked out of their homeland and forcefully “deposited” in Kazakhstan.  Unfortunately, many did not survive travelling to the steppes of Kazakhstan but thanks to the bigheartedness of the Kazakhs, others did. 

I am waiting for a sequel to the book by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov which would help explain how his Kazakh family had everything taken from them but yet he fought for the Soviet Union’s “Fatherland.”  Miraculously, he survived the Great Patriotic War.  His book in English(translated from the Russian book “Sudba” = Destiny) only covers how he and his family survived the starvation period of the 1930s and up to his fighting and returning home after the war when he was about age 21. 

That’s about the age of tomorrow’s graduates who have led a very sheltered life compared to Shayakhmetov.  At our auspicious occasion of watching nearly 500 graduates cross the stage, I’ll see many different nationalities represented.  I’ll be imagining the stories these young people have in their families which sadly are being silenced with the passage of time. What is the destiny of these young people?  I hope there are more young patriots like Shayakhmetov who will rise up and write for the rest of world to read what happened under a tyrannical government such as the former Soviet Union.  Not a TRUE Fatherland for patriots, that’s for sure. 

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