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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.
Diaries written by Baek Hwa-sung are seen in Seoul, South Korea, September 30, 2017. Hwa-sung left Sinuiju, on the border with China, in 2003 and resettled in South Korea in 2008. He kept a diary as he defected. "In 2004, I started to write down all my thoughts in a diary. I didn't know if I'd get caught. 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. So I wanted to leave something behind in case I died there or got caught - that's why I started to write. Alone in the mountains, I desperately sought something to talk to. That was my diary. My diaries are proof of my life's journey. I read them when I want to remember home. I can't return home, and I already have no memories of my hometown. But when I go through my diaries, there are notes which detail the vivid memories of that time. Sometimes I might forget my father's birthday, but when I go back to my diary, his birthday and my mother's birthday are there. My diaries are a record of my life. They prove I'm alive." KIM HONG-JI/REUTERS