|Photographer Jung Sung-tae poses at the entrance of an ongoing contemporary photo exhibition, titled "KREAtive Perspectives," jointly hosted by the Korea Foundation (KF) and the Embassy of Ukraine in Korea at the KF Gallery in Seoul. The exhibition runs through Sept. 23, featuring 160 works from 12 Ukrainian and Korean artists including Jung. / Courtesy of Jung Sung-tae|
By Yi Whan-woo
For photographer Jung Sung-tae, his first visit to Ukraine in mid-2015 was to work on a film project documenting a small number of residents in Chernobyl, a place still devastated by the 1986 nuclear disaster.
"Although not intentional, it opened my eyes to ethnic Koreans in the country and other former Soviet states," he said during a phone interview with The Korea Times, Tuesday.
Ranging from local staff members at the Korean Embassy in Ukraine to translators, the ethnic Koreans Jung met were decedents of poor Korean migrants to the Russian Far East in the late 19th century who were then deported to Soviet Central Asia in 1937. More than 171,000 were deported.
The migrants and their descendants are often referred to as "Koryoin" or "Koryo-saram" after the ancient kingdom of Goryeo.
"I was aware of ethnic Koreans living in Central Asia but not in Ukraine," Jung said, noting their past was "exactly in line with my experiment of finding motifs in humanity's dark history, and through pain, reconciliation and emotional healing, ultimately discovering my inner self."
"And I've been thankful to Ukraine for inspiring me on the ethnic Korean project," he added.
Under the theme, "migration and settlement," he has visited Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and other former Soviet states since December 2015 and taken more than 10,000 photos of generations of ethnic Koreans.
|Kim Janna, second from right, lives with her family in the vicinity of the Ukrainian capital city of Kiev after moving from Russia. She said she wishes to visit Korea that "exists only in her imagination." / Courtesy of Jung Sung-tae|
|Kim Yuri is a vegetable farm owner in Ukraine and migrant from Uzbekistan. When asked about his dreams, he wanted to visit Korea. / Courtesy of Jung Sung-tae|
|Ko Alla, right, in her 70s, poses with her granddaughter at their home near the Ukrainian capital city of Kiev. Ko's late mother was from Pyongyang and moved to Sakhalin after a family member was killed by a Japanese soldier. / Courtesy of Jung Sun-tae|
He said he still remembers an old lady surnamed Choi, who he met in Ukraine as the first photographic subject in his project, because "her gaze while looking out of the window showed mixed feelings of transience ― a yearning and natural instinct to return home."
"She passed away two months after I took photos of her and this motivated me to push on even harder with the project," Jung added.
Among other subjects in Ukraine were a vegetable farm owner who moved from Uzbekistan; an elderly woman and her granddaughter from the suburbs of Kiev whose ancestors moved from Pyongyang to Sakhalin after one of their relatives was killed by a Japanese soldier; and second- and third-generation members of another family from Pyongyang.
"All of them had the common wish to visit Korea once in their life," Jung said.
In relation to his appreciation for Ukraine, Jung has participated in two exhibitions co-hosted by the Korea Foundation (KF), a government-affiliated public diplomacy organization, and the Ukrainian Embassy in Seoul to bolster cultural exchanges between the two countries.
The first was in 2017 to mark the 25th anniversary of Korea-Ukraine diplomatic relations and 80 years since the forced relocation of ethnic Koreans from the Russian Far East.
The second is an ongoing contemporary photo exhibition, titled "KREAtive Perspectives," which features 160 works from 12 Ukrainian and Korean artists. It opened in July at KF Gallery in central Seoul and runs through Sept. 23.
The "KREAtive Perspectives" exhibition includes 90 Polaroid pictures taken by Jung during his visits to Ukraine.
Captured from everyday life, they vary from an abandoned warehouse to a distant red brick building seen through a crack of a wall and a scorched base of a tree trunk.
"All of them have been inspirational and I find them all precious," he said.
Jung held 12 solo exhibitions and multiple group exhibitions since he began his photography career in 2006.