Last month, dramatic video footage of a North Korean soldier limping to safety after being shot at by his former comrades was released, shedding light on a scary regime. The video was disclosed by the United Nations Command, and it gave viewers a chance to understand the dangers defectors are forced to confront while trying to escape from the country.
Numerous stories have emerged over the years, full of detailed and painful accounts of people fleeing from North Korea. Hyeonseo Lee, a North Korean activist, talked about her harrowing experience at a TED talk in 2013, sharing her story with millions of people all over the world.
Lee was sent to China as a child after a famine severely hit North Korea in the 1990s. She didn’t know what people in her country were going through and believed her country was the best in the world until her family received a letter from an acquaintance who wrote, “When you read this, our five family members will not exist in this world, because we haven’t eaten for the past three weeks. We are lying on the floor together, and our bodies are so weak, we are waiting to die.”
Things started changing drastically, and her parents made the decision to let Lee stay in China with distant relatives. Things weren’t going to be easy. North Koreans are considered illegal immigrants in China, and she had a narrow escape once, answering questions policemen asked her and proving her innocence.
“I was so scared. I thought my heart was going to explode. If anything seemed unnatural, I could be imprisoned and repatriated. I thought my life was over. But I managed to control all the emotions inside me, and answer the questions. After they finished questioning me, one official said to another, ‘This was a false report. She’s not North Korean.’ And they let me go. It was a miracle,” she said.
She eventually moved to South Korea, learned English and made a life for herself away from North Korea. She even managed to get her family out of the country after overcoming several roadblocks.
The 24-year-old soldier, surnamed Oh, who was shot at by his own countrymen survived. Doctors found multiple parasites (some were almost 27 centimeters) in his ruptured intestines which may be a result of malnutrition and ill-health in North Korea’s military. Oh told reporters that he had defected to South Korea by choice.
Young North Koreans are taught a song, “Nothing to Envy” in school and are raised to believe that Japan, South Korea, and America are their enemies. And that their country is the best, of course. It’s dangerous, closed-off and one of the least free countries that exist, cutting its citizens off from the rest of the world. Many of its citizens don’t know and are fed propaganda every day.
“Our father is Marshall Kim Il Sung/ Our home is the bosom of the party/ We are all brothers and sisters/ We have nothing to envy in the world.”