Accessing NK materials in GARF

0. Before getting started

The State Archive of the Russian Federation (Gosudarstvennyy arkhiv Rossiyskoy Federatsii, or GARF) is one of the key Russian archives where fundamental North Korean materials are held. Whereas the Lenin Library has a variety of primary as well as secondary North Korean publications including newspapers, journals, books and pamphlets, researchers can access diplomatic, governmental and intergovernmental documents such as act (akt), conversation (beseda), correspondent (perepiska), personal letter, plan (plan), protocol (protokol), reference (referentura)  and statement (vedomost’) in GARF. Unless there is going to be an ‘archival revolution’ in North Korea in the nearest future, GARF would be one of the priority venues researchers must visit to find relevant sources.

So far, the National Institute of Korean History have published more than 80 volumes of Historical Materials on North Korea (Pukhan gwan’gye saryojip, for a brief information of this compilation, see pages 12-13 of Suzy Kim’s Everyday Life). The 71st and 72nd volumes (both printed in 2012) respectively contain selected GARF materials which show the cultural cooperation and exchange between North Korea and the Soviet Union for between 1957 and 1959 (71st) and between 1959 and 1961 (72nd). These volumes are very much handy, for they contain not only translated Korean texts but also original Russian documents with a varying degree of resolution. Be that as it may, these do not provide with the origin of each document. For instance, you can see the 1956-57 plan for NK-Soviet cultural cooperation in pages 5-8 (Korean) and 279-282 (Russian) of the 71st volume without the origin. The exact source for the aforementioned plan should be offered as: f. R8009, op. 34, d. 397, ll. 27-31. In this regard, these published materials could have been much more helpful for researchers if the origins had been provided. Still, HMNK is the best working guide for not only North Korean historians but also researchers in general who have interest in history of North Korea.

Now I turn to how to access NK materials in GARF.


1. Some basic info

The official web page (Russian)

Address: Bol’shaya Pirogovskya, 17 (Большая Пироговская, 17, 2gis map) and Berezhkovskaya Naberezhnaya, 26 (Бережковская Набережная, 26, 2gis map).

(I have not visited the latter, the reading room 2. Please share me with your knowledge on using NK materials archived there.)

Work hours: Mon and Wed 12:00 – 20:00, Tue and Thu 10:00 – 17:00, Fri 10:00 – 16:00

* Important: you would be required to submit passport (as always) and letter/statement (pis’mo or zayavleniye, either would be okay) in order to get a temporary pass (propusk) from the pass office (byuro propuskov). Handing in passport is by no means difficult, but it is highly recommended to make letter/statement prior to coming to Russia. As far as I know, there is no designated form for the letter/statement.


2. Making a pass

Get to Moscow and go to GARF. Don’t forget to bring passport and letter/statement with you.

On my way to GARF from the Lenin Library, I met “the frock-coated communist.”
As you can see, there are also RGAE (Economic Archive) and RGADA (Ancient Acts) in this facility.

Once you enter the door, go to the right side. Or the guard will tell you to go to that direction if you let her/him know you want to enter the archive. In the pass office, you will see the small counter as below.


Say hi (preferably in Russian) to the staff and submit your passport and letter/statement. The staff will take letter/statement, and give you passport and a temporary pass in return like below.


In addition, you can see the information as below in the pass office.


When you enter the check point, you will have to submit a temporary pass as well as your passport. Then the guard will take the half (I don’t remember which half it was) of your temporary pass and give your passport and the other half back to you.

It usually takes one working day to receive your regular pass. However, you will have to wait for at least two or three days to get your requested delo. So it would be your next visit to GARF when you retrieve your regular pass.

If the process is done, let’s walk up to the reading room.


3. Registering as a reader and requesting delo

When I first visited GARF, I was surprised as well as motivated by enthusiastic researchers vigorously working on their sources.

There are two offices on the right side of the picture: GARF and RGAE. Let’s line up to the GARF office.



You have several things to do from now on. First, print your surname on the roster. Or the staff will tell you to do so. Then, present your temporary pass and passport together, saying you are “new” (saying novaya for women and novyy for men is enough) here. Then the staff will tell you that you have to register on the computerized system. Collect your passport from the staff and sit on the desk where you can register yourself to GARF.


What you have to do is to register yourself. Give proper information on the screen. If you have to type in English, press shift+alt (this is very useful when your typing Russian skill is not high). Once the registration is done, visit the GARF office again with your passport, saying you “wrote” (napisal).

Then the staff will print out the information you gave a moment ago and explain to you some very basic things about using the archive. What is important is to remember a 6-digit password. You can write it down by using cellphone or a sheet of paper. You have to remember and use this number in order to request delo. (Of course, you can always consult the staff with various things including reissuing this number.)

Now let’s request some delo for science.


It is always great to do preliminary works; in this case, you can find the archival data of the fond you need. Visit the electronic inventory of GARF. You can search fond/opis’/delo by using either the tree-structured system or the search (poisk, underlined) in the middle of screen. If you use the search, you can put some keywords like KNDR (DPRK) or sotrudnichestvo (cooperation). However, this online search system does not provide the contents of each delo. Therefore, you have to open each delo to find out what kinds of documents that delo has inside.

Personally, I jotted down the numbers of fond/opis’/delo for the documents I was going to request. Then I used the search system in GARF. I put the numbers of fond/opis’/delo and saved a lot of time. It is very possible for researchers to use the tree-structured system in GARF as well, but it would take a lot of time.

In the process putting delo of your interest in a basket and requesting them, you will be likely to see some materials are not available in the reading room 1. It means you have to go the reading room 2 (a different location). I had almost no time doing such, and I am not sure if I could see those unavailable (in the reading room 1) delo in the reading room 2. If you finish ordering delo (it’s like shopping in online malls), go to the GARF office. You will tell the staff that you finished ordering, and the staff will let you know when your request is fulfilled. In my case, it took three days.

Congratulations for your success in requesting delo!

If you need to call it a day, visit the GARF office and ask the staff to return your temporary pass. Passport shall be presented (in Russia, passport is one of your closest friends). Then the staff will ask you if you need regular (постоянный) pass. If you want to continue archival works here, you must say yes (da).

When you go out of the archive, you will have to submit your passport as well as temporary pass.  The guard will collect your temporary pass and say goodbye (do svidaniya) to you. See you soon, GARF!


4. Working in the archive

Visit the pass office and show your passport. Now is the time to get a regular pass. Ta-da!


Go up to the reading room 1 and visit the GARF office. Do print your name on the roster again, present your regular pass and collect the requested delo. In the archive, the early researcher takes a good desk or microfilm reader. This is the iron law.


I have not taken pictures of paper materials and I am not able to tell you the cost of making photocopy (please refer to GARF regulations). A lot of researchers were either writing down or typing on their laptops, and I did just the same.

If your requested documents are provided as a form of microfilm, you can take pictures freely. So let’s hope that you will get as many microfilms as possible.

During my short stay in GARF, I skimmed through some materials from 34 opis’ (Office of External Relations, 1934-1967) of R8009 fond (Ministry of Health of the USSR). These contain interesting details about NK-Soviet technoscientific (with a focus on the medical, given the nature of the fond) cooperation in 1954-55 and 1957-59. Though I have only worked on those for a few hours, I was able to learn new facts and to draw a speculative framework upon where North Korea and the Soviet Union base their medico-technical relations after the Korean War. Truly excited when I saw the 1955 ministry letter to comrade Ioffe, then-the Head of the Sales Department of the Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine named after Stalin, to ship the relevant materials to the construction of the city hospital in East Pyongyang by train from Otpor Zabaykal’skoy station to Tongpyongyang station via Man’chzhuriya, AndongSinuiju stations (f. R8009, op. 34, d. 180, l. 92). Fascinating stories abound to be unearthed by historians in the archives…

After finishing working on your delo, you will have to give your basic information (date, surname, purpose of use, range of your use and your signature) on the back sheet of the front page of each delo as well as the roster for your entire requested delo. In order to return them, it means, you will have to give your signature as many times as the number of your requested delo. For instance, I happened to request 5 delo and it made me give info plus signature 6 times (5 delo+the overall roster). In the GARF office, you can return them. While doing so, show your passport, or tell you surname, so that you can retrieve your regular pass.

I am afraid I do not exactly know about storing (ostavit’) requested materials. Yet, I assume that it would be not difficult to have your requested delo stay in the GARF office.


5. Well-being

Working for a long time is surely daunting and demanding. Here are two small tips for your future in-facility adventure in GARF.

Before going upstairs to the reading room 1, you will see the door that lead you to the court of GARF. Go there (this time, without presenting pass or what not!) and a different view would appear before your eyes. I have not much wandered in the court and neighboring buildings, but there must be useful places including canteen and cafe, both located in the 6th building (2gis map). For those who smoke, there is also the designated place for you in this court near the 5th or 6th building.


The canteen was very neat and nice. Although menu seems to change on a daily basis, pasta and buckwheat (grechikha) I had were delicious and sound. The cost was also reasonable, especially compared to the other restaurants in Moscow.

Tea break with an old friend Kwangyeol (University of Oregon).

The cafe was even nicer. One caveat is that you cannot get iced coffee in this cafe (I confirmed it myself), but the place was very cozy and comfortable. Very much recommended to chill out here.


To GARF. Only love can stand the test of time like the documents.

I hope to visit not only here again, but also other Russian archives such as AVPRF, RGASPI, ARAN and RGANI, hopefully after my general examination in 2020. Until then, only forward!

If you have any concerns, comments, issues and questions, please email me to: dhwoo1234[at]gmail[dot]com


* I deeply thank Kwangyeol Ko (University of Oregon) for helping me a lot in adjusting myself to GARF. I gladly look forward to future collaboration with him in the future.

Jolly Memories from Tomsk

From the late February to late May 2017, I took a Russian language course in the city of Tomsk, located in the middle of Siberia, where full of beauty, wonder and snow. I want to share with you a few great moments I had there. The following pictures were taken in Mar 8, the International Women’s Day.

I love Los Angeles, but my heart still lies in Russia.

A fallen soldier guards the park.
Dear Alexander Pushkin.
Dear Anton Chekhov.
Tom River and a lovely family.
The square.
Where does he point at? Toward hope? We don’t know yet.

State Archive of the Tomsk Region (ГАТО)

On 6 Apr 2017, I visited a local Russian archive for the first time in my life. With the help of a brilliant Russian friend-assistant, I was able to get an one-time entrance card, search the materials I needed and request them. Fortunately, unlike for the Tomichi, the locals living in the region, the materials I was looking for were prepared after 8 days. I heard that it would usually take longer, even for a month, for the Tomichi because international visitors/researchers do not have much time to stay here.

On 14 Apr 2017, I was taken aback by the Archive’s preparedness. Initially, I requested ten items and was guaranteed orally that I could take pictures of the materials. However, it seemed that the Archive decided to issue just 6 or 7 items for me because the materials I ordered were ‘personal.’ Still, I have an access on the rest of the items, mostly letters between the person and his wife. Alas, they brought us into the small room and told us that we could read the materials shown on the computer screen. I tried to take pictures with my iPad, but soon I ceased to do that. Resolution was low and protecting my eyes was important.

Meanwhile, upon reading of the materials between Comrade Shipulin (Шипулин М.Д., 1919-199?) and his wife, I came to conclude that discovering any North-Korea-related materials in this archive was next to impossible. The exchange of letters between the couple suddenly stopped in some point of August 1945. According to a daughter’s memories of her parents, the Shipulin couple had worked in the city of Hoeryong (Хайрен) until their return to the Soviet Union in early 1948. Given that Comrade Shipulin and his wife are the only Tomichi who served in nowadays North Korean territory so far, it is highly unlikely to find any more sources that would reveal historical connections between Tomsk and North Korea.

But it was great and valuable experience, which I could absolutely recommend to you!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Working hours of GATO
Many thanks to Kirill (Kyle) Avteni, my great Russian brother

How to Get a Russian Visa (Student)

러시아 학생 비자를 받았습니다. 이제 저와 함께 학생 비자를 최소한의 ‘나가리’로 받아 보죠!

+ 비자를 여권에 받기 전까지 비행기표를 구입하지 않으시길 추천 드립니다. 초청장이 늦게 오는 것은 일상다반사이고, 비행기표가 종이쪼가리로 전락하는 것은 빈번하기 때문입니다.

+ 비자의 종류는 다양하지만 제가 받은 것은 학생 비자 (ОБЫКНОВЕННАЯ УЧЕБНАЯ; 일반 교육)입니다. 학생 비자 외의 다른 비자 발급에 대해서는 잘 모르겠습니다. 준비물과 진행 순서는 다음과 같습니다.

0-1. HIV 테스트 (AIDS) 확인서; 지정병원에서 검사를 받아야 합니다. 사진 2장, 여권을 가지고 가십시오. 저의 경우, 신촌 세브란스 병원 (02-1599-1004)에 전화를 걸어 예약을 하고, 병원을 찾아 검사를 받았습니다. 5만원. 당연히 러시아인지라 비자를 받은 후에도 교육기관에서 HIV 확인서를 요구할 수도 있습니다. 원본을 미처 복사하지 못하신 분은 다시 전화를 걸어 재발급 신청을 하십시오. 이때 준비물은 사진 1장, 여권, 그리고 재발급비 1만원입니다. 유효기한은 검사시로부터 최장 3개월이니 3개월이 넘었을 경우엔, 5만원을 내셔야 합니다.

0-2. 최근 6개월 이내에 찍은 가로 세로 3.5 x 4.5 cm 사이즈 사진 1장. 더 자세한 규정은 여길 참조. 사진을 비자신청서에 붙여서 가셔야 합니다. 저의 경우, 거기 계신 러시아인 직원께서 붙여 주셨습니다.

0-3. 본인의 여권.

1-1. 러시아 교육기관으로부터 발급된 초청장 (приглашение); 이게 있어야 비자 신청을 할 수 있습니다. 저의 경우, 전자 초청장이 pdf 파일로 왔습니다. 반드시 인쇄하여 두십시오.

1-2. 러시아 교육기관으로부터 발급된 입학 허가서 (Official Letter of Admission); 역시 pdf 파일로 왔습니다. 반드시 인쇄하여 두십시오.

2. 비자신청서; 러시아연방 외무성 영사국 전자 비자신청서 사이트에서 작성할 수 있습니다. 초청장에 적힌 정보대로 작성을 하고, 초청장 번호나 현재 직업 등은 안 적는 것도 방법입니다. 반드시 인쇄하여 두십시오.

3. 영사관 접수 신청서; 영사관을 찾기 전에 반드시 인터넷 대기 신청을 해야 합니다. 저의 경우, 대사관 접수를 하여 시간을 낭비했습니다. 대사관 접수는 하지 마십시오. 12자리 번호를 주는데, 아무 쓸모 없습니다. 다행히 아침 일찍 방문한 데다가, 거기서 일하시는 직원께서 도와주셔서 휴대폰으로 재빨리 할 수 있었습니다. 그렇게 받은 16자리 번호를 반드시 인쇄 또는 촬영하여 두십시오. 여기에 나와있는 16자리 번호가 있어야 영사관에 가서도 ‘나가리’를 안 먹습니다. 이 번호를 영사관 내 키오스크 좌측 상단 버튼을 눌렀을 때 나오는 란에 적은 뒤 대기표를 받으십시오. (만전을 기하기 위해 직원 분께 여쭤 보십시오)

+ 이상의 준비물을 전부 챙기십시오. 영사관 비자 업무 시간은 휴일 제외하고 월/수/금 아침 10시 시작입니다. 저는 아침 9시 30분에 맞춰 갔습니다. 물론 저보다 앞서 오신 분들도 많았습니다. 관의 특성상, 시간이 지날수록 더더욱 많은 분들이 찾아 오십니다. 무조건 아침에 가시기를 추천합니다. 늦게 갈 경우, 당일에 비자를 못 받을 공산이 크기 때문입니다. 본인의 차례가 되어 대기표와 함께 서류 일체를 내면 직원이 언제 오라고 말씀해 주십니다. 그때 가서 비자를 받고, 반드시 비자에 나와 있는 여권번호와 여권에 나와있는 여권번호가 동일한지 확인해야 합니다. 안 그러면 亡이기 때문이죠. 동일하다면 영사관을 나오시면 됩니다.

이렇게 받은 비자는 러시아로의 험난한 길 가운데 고작 한 고비를 넘겼음을 의미합니다. 그럼 파이팅.