[FOUNTAIN]Recalling Russia’s sacrificeOn Feb. 9, 1904, off the coast of Incheon, a naval battle began the war that symbolized the ambitions of imperial Japan and the fate of Northeast Asia. The first chapter of the Russo-Japanese War was opened in Jemulpo, a west coast port on the Korean Peninsula.
After meticulous planning, the Imperial Army of Japan carried out a blitz attack on the Russian naval fleet anchored at the port of Lushun, China. Simultaneously, Japanese cruisers surprised two Russian vessels, Varyag and Koreets, that were calling at Jemulpo. The 6,000-ton Varyag, meaning Varangian, and 1,000-ton Koreets, meaning Korean, were unable to withstand the assault from a dozen armored ships.
At the juncture of defeat or surrender, the Russian navy chose self-termination over submission. The entire crew was buried in the sea of Incheon. The naval battle was overshadowed by the larger-scale attack on Lushun; nonetheless, the sinking of Varyag and Koreets was a historical event, recorded as the first battle between Russia and Japan.
The Russian navy still remembers the Jemulpo sea battle as a symbol of its military spirit, sacrifice and patriotism. Since Korea and Russia established diplomatic ties, the Russian government has sent a delegation to the battle site every year to honor the fallen sailors.
It is a twist of fate that a warship named Koreets sank in Korean waters. It is not certain why the Russian navy named the ship “Korean” and why it ended up in Incheon. But Koreets was fighting against the Japanese Imperial Army during the Russo-Japanese War, which brought about the colonization of Korea by Japan. The tragic fate of the ships and sailors certainly makes us solemn.
The Russian navy revived Varyag in December 1989 with a 9,000-ton missile cruiser, and a 1,000-ton patrol boat under the Pacific Command was named Koreets in August 2002. Moscow now wants to build a park and a monument dedicated to the sailors in remembrance of the battle and is asking the city of Incheon and Gyeonggi province for their cooperation.
The new Varyag and Koreets will return to Jemulpo for the 100th anniversary of the Russo-Japanese War. After a century, while the peninsula is under the threat of North Korea’s nuclear program, how will Koreans greet the return of Varyag and Koreets in 2004?
by Kim Seok-hwan
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.