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‘Is this a new Cold War?’

Koreans, still living with legacy of hostile era, unnerved by what’s unfolding in Ukraine

Watching Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it seems many South Koreans cannot help but worry about their own country’s future, which is still locked in a Cold War division.

From the social media sphere to presidential campaign trails, people voiced their opposition to war and denounced the aggressor, while some raised “what ifs” over Korea’s own precarious geopolitical situation vis-a-vis a belligerent North Korea.

On Twitter and Facebook, ordinary citizens and public figures spoke up with the hashtags #NoWar and #PrayforUkraine. Among them was Cho Hee-yeon, the superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, and Ryan Jungwook Hong, a former parliamentarian and incumbent chairman of plant-based food company Organica.

“Protecting (Ukrainians’) peace is protecting our peace and protecting our children and students,” Cho said via Facebook.

A South Korean Twitter user with the handle PonderosaCanopy posted on Friday, “Remember to pray for Ukraine. Pray for the survival of its citizens. Pray for Russia, so that they’ll just stop. It’s outrageous.”

Hong Jeong-sik of civic group Hwal-bin-dan holds a sign that says “No war, peace. Peaceful ceasefire agreement! Stop Invasion,” during his one-man protest in front of the Russian Embassy in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)
Hong Jeong-sik of civic group Hwal-bin-dan holds a sign that says “No war, peace. Peaceful ceasefire agreement! Stop Invasion,” during his one-man protest in front of the Russian Embassy in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)
Another South Korean Twitter user with the handle Timeslip2 posted news of the explosion at the Boryspil International Airport, saying, “Imagine if a war broke out in Korea and the Incheon Airport exploded. I don’t even want to think about it.”

The Korean Peninsula is often called the last vestige of the Cold War, with the two Koreas still divided by the 1953 armistice that technically paused -- not ended -- the Korean War. The war began when the North invaded the South on June 25, 1950, with prior approval from Russia, historical documents show.

“I do feel concerned about security, since we too are between two very powerful countries, the United States and China,” said 68-year-old Lee Hang-sun, who was born a year after the 1953 armistice.

“(Russia’s invasion of Ukraine) shows you will get eaten if you are weak. No matter who gets the power, politicians have to make sure the people stay safe above all else.”

Many politicians across the aisle reacted to the Ukrainian crisis, including presidential hopefuls.

Prominent presidential candidates of the upcoming March election were unified in their condemnation of the invasion and necessity of security, but attacked each other on their respective policies on national defense and North Korea.

While responding to the global issue, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea’s presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung didn’t miss the opportunity to attack his main rival, the People Power Party’s Yoon Suk-yeol. Lee attacked Yoon’s pledge to deploy an additional US-led anti-missile system called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, and Yoon’s remarks regarding potential preemptive strikes against North Korea.

“The Ukraine incident can lead to a new Cold War, and likely affect peace in the Korean Peninsula,” Lee said, portraying Yoon as a reckless and incapable leader to navigate the challenging global environment.

Yoon’s People Power Party, on the other hand, criticized the ruling party’s drive to declare an end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

“Despite missile provocations from North Korea, the Democratic Party of Korea and Lee are busy being (North Korea’s) representatives by pushing for a declaration ending the war without guarantee of denuclearization (from Pyongyang),” said the People Power Party’s presidential campaign spokesman Lee Yang-soo. “As proven by the Afghanistan incident last year and the Ukraine incident, declaration of peace alone cannot retain peace,” he said, referring to the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan last year.

Anyang Mayor Choi Dae-ho suggested a relay campaign protesting the war.

While the Ukranian capital of Kyiv was on the precipice of all-out invasion Thursday, Choi said he was beginning an anti-war challenge, urging fellow high-ranking public servants to publicly decry Moscow’s invasion.

“The Ukraine incident is more than just a regional dispute, and can spark a new form of Cold War. War will make everyone in the world miserable,” he said. “I urge state leaders across the world to actively seek a resolution to the Ukraine incident.”

On Friday morning, just hours after Russia commenced a full-blown invasion of Ukraine, civic group Hwal-bin-dan held a protest decrying the Moscow invasion in front of the Russian Embassy in Korea. “International society should play a role in a peaceful resolution to the crisis,” said the group’s leader Hong Jeong-sik. He urged more Koreans to join and denounce what’s unfolding in Ukraine. “There is not yet a mass protest (against Russia) in Korea, but more people should step out on the streets to do so.” 

Caption: A man holds up a sign saying “Ukraine will never surrender” during a protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in London on Wednesday. (AP-Yonhap)
Caption: A man holds up a sign saying “Ukraine will never surrender” during a protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in London on Wednesday. (AP-Yonhap)
It is reported that the Ukrainian community in Korea will hold protests in front of the embassy starting Sunday.

Some form of public outcry against Russia manifested negatively when internet users posted malicious comments against YouTuber Kristina Andrejevna Ovcinnikova, better known for her channel “Soviet Girl in Seoul.”

Upon receiving comments like “Go help (Russia) invade Ukraine,” and “How is Russia different than Nazi or (imperial) Japan?” she uploaded a video stressing that she is against war on any occasion.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)
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