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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.
Lee Min-bok, 60, poses for a photograph in Seoul, South Korea, September 14, 2017. Min-bok was a researcher at North Korea's Academy of Agricultural Science. He first tried to defect, unsuccessfully, in 1990. He eventually left North Korea in June 1991 and came to South Korea in 1995. His family sent him these diaries. "I have a bit of an academic side. According to Kim Il Sung's teachings, people are supposed to keep diaries. Everyone in North Korea should strictly follow Kim Il Sung's teachings, so I did as I was supposed to and kept a diary. Even though Kim Il Sung is a villain here, in North Korea he's above everything. We learned that he studied well and gave our lives purpose. I lived according to those teachings. I wrote these out of loyalty to the Leader. That was our ideology, and I lived my life in strict adherence to it. No one could think differently. I got hold of these diaries 10 years after I arrived in South Korea. I had been sending money to my family in the North and they sent them to me. I didn't write any complaints in diaries. I would've been in big trouble if I did. My diaries are a record of my history in North Korea. I am thinking about turning these diaries into a book. I'd like to publish a book about how to change North Koreans' thinking when unification happens. These diaries show how North Koreans think and how their minds are constructed. People need to make these into a textbook, because they need proof. Talking is not as effective." KIM HONG-JI/REUTERS