Wishing peace on war-torn KharkivHAN YOUNG-IK
The author is the political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Koreans may not be familiar with Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine. As there is no direct flight to Kyiv, the historic capital of Ukraine, it is only natural that Koreans don’t know much about the city.
However, Kharkiv in Ukraine, which some may say is “a country on the other side of the earth with not much to do with Korea” is actually not a place with no ties. The only school for Koryoin (ethnic Koreans from post-Soviet countries) in Ukraine is located there. It is estimated that there are about 20,000 Koryoin in Ukraine, those who were forcibly displaced by Stalin and their descendants. Another relationship, a bad one, is that Kharkiv was the main production base of the T-34 tank, which left the South Korean forces in a panic in the early days of the Korean War (1950-53).
Just like the lives of the displaced Koryoin, the city of Kharkiv had many ups and downs in modern history. During World War II, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had four major battles over the city. The battles in 1942 and 1943 were especially large. In 1942, Soviet forces attacked Kharkiv first in order to stop the advancing German forces but were defeated by the German counter attacks. After losing Kharkiv, the Soviet forces were pushed to Stalingrad, modern-day Volgograd.
In the battle in 1943, the Soviets started the attack. After having taken 400,000 German prisoners of war in Stalingrad, the Soviets were pushing the Germans recklessly. However, Germany waited until the Soviet forces advanced to Kharkiv and struck back. The Soviet advance was delayed. After many battles, Kharkiv was almost in ruins.
Even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kharkiv went through political turmoil. In 2014, the city was at the center of chaos during Euromaidan, large-scale waves of protests calling for Ukraine’s entry to the European Union. Amid the confrontation between pro-Russian groups and pro-Western groups, Kharkiv was the stronghold of Victor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian politician. Located only 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the Russian border, many residents are of Russian heritage.
In the Russia-Ukraine war, Kharkiv is once again engulfed in fire. From the beginning of the war, universities and city hall buildings were indiscriminately bombed by the Russians. Three months into the fierce battle, the Ukrainian authorities declared that the Russian forces were completely driven out from Kharkiv. The soldiers who reached the Russian border sent a message that they had made it. I wish peace would come to Kharkiv.