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MagazineApr 13, 2018
Most North Koreans who break out do so by crossing the river border. Reuters team photographed and interviewed some of those who made it to Seoul.
Kang, 28, who wanted to be identified only by her surname, poses for a photograph in Seoul, South Korea, August 8, 2017. The parents of Kang sent out a coat across the Chinese border after she reached the South in 2010. "I didn't ask my mother to send me this coat," said Kang. "But she knew I feel the cold easily and sent it to me. She sent some honey too, but it went missing on the way. The coat is made of dog fur. I don't know what kind of dog. In 2010, it cost about 700,000 North Korean won ($88 at the unofficial rate). 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. I thought my mother must've spent quite a lot of money on it. My father was a party officer. Our family had a car and we lived in a special apartment. Ordinary people couldn't afford to wear this kind of coat, not even soldiers. Commissioned officers could afford them. Border guards would wear them. It wasn't easy to buy this kind of coat, but as time went on, fake ones began to appear. The state often clamped down on this item. It's technically military supplies so the state monitored people who altered the design of the coat. I know just from looking at this coat that it's a counterfeit one, not the official version. 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 look too chubby in this, so don't wear it here. I thought I could probably wear it if I altered it." KIM HONG-JI/REUTERS