The Great Russian Exodus to Korea

Many of you are probably aware that in 1922 a fleet of some thirty Russian warships, steamers and fishing boats, carrying about 10,000 White Russians and 1,500 Koreans, made its way to Wonsan, Korea seeking refuge.  Many made their way to China but others elected to stay in Korea.

Those who remained in Korea went to small provincial cities and opened up little shops, went to work for the numerous gold mines or made their way to Seoul where they found any type of employment possible.

Of course, desperate people do desperate things. Some women sold their bodies and some men became pirates who terrorized the waters of northern Korea and Russia while others engaged in smuggling watches and jewelry.

Surprisingly, the Japanese authorities did not confiscate the large number of weapons that the refugees had brought with them. There were several incidents of illegal arms transfers to China that peppered the newspapers in the early 1920s but none of them were as serious as the one involving Capt. Lawrence D. Kearney, an American businessman in China. Kearney seems to have been quite the character. He was about 50 years old, extremely obese and had two artificial limbs.

What were all these weapons going to be used for?

These weapons were to be used in an effort to make the civil governor of Chekiang, Chang Tsai-yang, president of China. As part of the plan, the foreign population in Shanghai would be poisoned by gas bombs made by a Russian chemist and dropped by former Russian aviators. Fortunately the plot was never carried out.

You can read the rest of the article at Korea Times.  I might add, a great source of information about the early Russians in Korea is Prof. Donald Clark’s book – “Living Dangerously in Korea”.

And, while we are speaking about history.  William M. Donko, the former Austrian ambassador to Korea(2005-2009), has a piece in Korea Times about the Austrian Navy’s early visits to Korea.

  • Yu Bum Suk

    Interesting read, as usual. I wonder how many married Koreans and settled down. Even if it were only 100, that would likely leave over 1,000 North Koreans with some Russian blood in them. The cleanest race indeed.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    …and you just know that whenever Koreans look at this Donko guy, they’re thinkin’ “a$$hole.

  • Wedge

    Dr. Eugene Askenoff. Good man. Saved my life back in 2001 with a proper diagnosis. White Russian who actually played as an American in propaganda films during WWII in Japan.

  • leguwan

    Loooking at all those leggy blondes around Itaewon it seems like the Russian exodus is still in full swing.

  • WangKon936

    Yu Bum Suk,

    Not to mention all that Mongolian and Jurchen blood too.


    Yeah, I was gonna say that. Isn’t there a lot of Russkies in Busan also?