South Korea's prime minister said Sunday that the government is proud of ethnic Koreans from the former Soviet Union who spread hope at a time when the country was in dire circumstances in the early part of the last century.
In an event to welcome a group of 32 ethnic Koreans who drove over the inter-Korean land border on Saturday as part of a journey to mark the 150th anniversary of their emigration, Chung Hong-won said that those who emigrated to the former Soviet Union played a role in winning the independence of the country from Japanese colonial rule.
The group drove across Siberia and arrived in Seoul via North Korea after 40 days and 15,000 kilometers traveled.
They embarked on the journey from Moscow on July 7 and passed through Central Asian countries, including Kazakhstan, before arriving in North Korea on Aug. 8. Before arriving in the South, they visited the eastern port city of Wonsan in North Korea and Mount Kumgang, a scenic resort on North Korea's east coast.
"Ethnic Koreans have also been able to accomplish numerous successes in the face of adversity," the premier said.
He pointed out that the group's trip marked the first time that participants in a motor rally crossed the demilitarized zone that separates the two Korea.
"It is our hope that the journey marks a turning point for unification," the policymaker said.
The prime minister also said at the gathering that Seoul is committed to assisting ethnic Koreans living in the former Soviet Union.
Local citizens are expected to join the group's journey from Seoul to Busan starting Tuesday.
The ethnic Koreans are later scheduled to move northward to visit the city of Donghae in Gangwon Province, where they will leave for Russia's Vladivostok on a ship on Aug. 24.
About 500,000 ethnic Koreans are estimated to reside in Russia and Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
In the late 19th century, poor farmers began to migrate into those areas and later some independence fighters resisting Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule joined them.
Ethnic Koreans living in the Maritime Province of Siberia were deported to Central Asia in massive numbers in accordance with an order by Joseph Stalin in 1937. (Yonhap)