Where Russia meets North Korea

Escaping from North Korea is Only the Beginning (2007)

In North Korea, Jeong Min-woo said he needed this "to steal from others. Meet some of those who made it to Seoul.

In North Korea, Jeong Min-woo said he needed this "to steal from others. Meet some of those who made it to Seoul. Song Byeok, 48, was a propaganda artist. He tried and failed to defect in then left North Korea in He arrived in South Korea one year later. He brought photos of his family with him. His father drowned trying to cross the Tumen river, in When the artist finally left North Korea in , he brought photos of his family with him.

I thought we had to cross it anyway. All I could think about was getting to China to buy food. I took off my clothes and tied them into a rope to strap us together. I told my father not to let go. As we approached the middle of the river, the strap felt lighter.

I looked back and saw my father drifting away. They handcuffed me and took me away. But after I was released from the camp I felt like I needed to survive and carry on living. Right before I tried to defect again, I went back home and grabbed my family photos. Even if I died trying, I thought, at least I would have this picture with me. I never found my father.

After I came to South Korea, I went back to China in and held a memorial service for him by the river. My heart still aches. Kang, 28, only wanted to be identified by her surname.

She sent some honey too, but it went missing on the way. The coat is made of dog fur. It was really expensive. A North Korean friend went to China to pick it up for me. I liked this coat when I got it. My father was a party officer. Our family had a car and we lived in a special apartment. Commissioned officers could afford them. Border guards would wear them. The state often clamped down on this item. The counterfeit ones look quite different from the original ones.

Military officials preferred the fakes to the original because the design looked much better. The children of rich families would wear them. I thought I could probably wear it if I altered it. Ji Sung-ho, 36, is from Hoeryong, near the border with China.

He left North Korea in with a pair of wooden crutches. I was stealing coal from a train when I fell off and lost my leg and my hand.

I had to bring the crutches with me. I had several pairs of crutches but they all broke, and this was the last pair. I used these crutches for 10 years, until I was 25, when I arrived in South Korea. I would steal coals from moving trains and fall off, destroying my crutches.

When they broke, I would make new ones. When I had new ones, I could go back outside. When I first arrived in South Korea I thought about throwing them out. My friends said I should throw the crutches out and not think about North Korea. Some asked if I got upset when I saw my crutches.

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To make my crutches, my friends had given me some wood that they had bought, and someone I knew in North Korea who had carpentry skills had made them. It was my father who added the final touches. There is a lot of love from my North Korean friends and family in these crutches.

The South Korean government gave me some new crutches because the wood from my North Korean ones is hard and painful. But I still keep them, so as not to forget those memories. Baek Hwa-sung, 34, left Sinuiju, on the border with China, in and resettled in South Korea in His kept a diary as he defected. He kept a diary as he defected. I just wanted to let it be known where I was from, and where I wanted to go.

After I left the North, I became very depressed, hiding in the mountains alone for a while. The people who were watching over me told me not to come down to the village and left me by myself in a mountain shelter.

Alone, with no one to engage with or talk to, I felt like I would go insane. Alone in the mountains, I desperately sought something to talk to. That was my diary. I read them when I want to remember home. But when I go through my diaries, there are notes which detail the vivid memories of that time.

My diaries are a record of my life. Lee Oui-ryuk, 30, is from Onsong, near the border with China. He defected in , and brought his ID card with him. They just wrote whatever they wanted to. They strengthen border security just before and after that date. The soldiers shot at me as I tried to run away from the Tumen River. I managed to get away and hid, but someone reported me and I was caught. The state ruled that I had tried to defect to South Korea, and I was sent to a camp for political prisoners.

I escaped when they were transferring me to the camp. I needed my ID to move around without getting caught. I wrote on the back of them so as not to forget. Jeong Min-woo, 29, is from Hyesan, on the border with China. South Korean intelligence confiscated it, but he persuaded his North Korean military contacts to send him a new one.

I did not desert my unit. It was never a desertion, I left to earn money. I told the guards at the border I was leaving. It worked out, since we were all military men. When I got as far as Thailand I borrowed clothes from friends, and put my uniform in my bag just in case. If I was going to go back to North Korea I needed to be dressed in it.

A military uniform and ID card are valuable assets in North Korea. The military can do anything. I handed over my original uniform to South Korean intelligence. This is the summer uniform, made of cotton.

I paid for everything. Then I had to pay the courier fee from China to South Korea. The whole thing cost a few hundred bucks. I got mine from the military, but some officers made their own. Technically, people are not supposed to sell these uniforms. Military supplies are sold secretly.

Officers want better-looking uniforms so they buy or alter their own. In North Korea I wore my uniform every day, even when I was off-duty. Someone might steal a cigarette off me or try to pick a fight. If I had gone back, I would have needed that uniform to ride in cars and steal from others. He first tried to defect, unsuccessfully, in His family sent him these diaries.

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