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Ask A North Korean: Why a DPRK laborer in Russia decided to defect

Man who escaped in 2021 writes about growing disillusioned during 90s famine and how pandemic pushed him to make a break

By Jin Ju-dong

January 17, 2024

“Ask a North Korean” is an NK News series featuring interviews with and columns by North Korean defectors, most of whom left the DPRK within the last few years.

Readers may submit their questions for defectors by emailing and including their first name and city of residence.

Today’s question is: Why did you defect from North Korea?

Jin Ju-dong — who was born and raised in North Korea and defected in 2021 after working in Russia for several years — recalls growing up in the DPRK, the propaganda he was confronted with and what drove him to escape to South Korea.

Got a question for Ju-dong? Email it to with your name and city. We’ll be publishing the best ones.

The reproductive organs of a roundworm make up 80% of its body and the remaining 20% comprises its brain and digestive organs. Roundworms can derive enough nutrition from their food without moving and do not need to think or digest actively. As a result, their brains, digestive organs and ability to move have all deteriorated over time. Only their instinct to preserve their species has excessively evolved.

This is what I learned about roundworms during my middle school biology class in North Korea, and every time I see Kim Jong Un, roundworms spring to mind. The slave-like society of the DPRK under the third Kim leader is like a roundworm, where only one aspect is excessively developed. 

With no interest in the survival of his people, Kim Jong Un is only selfishly interested in the thought of handing over the reins of this slave society to his daughter. It is my wish that this twisted evolution will stop as soon as possible, and this wish is what brought me to write this piece.

I was born in North Korea in the 1980s, at a time when there was a huge shift in political thinking in both North and South Korea.

In the DPRK, the government under Kim Il Sung had completed its transformation into a hereditary dictatorship, and in South Korea, a direct presidential system was established in the aftermath of various dramatic events, including the Gwangju Democratic uprising. 

As a soldier, my father’s loyalty to the dictator was unwavering. He would always say, “We can only be happy in a socialist society that has the wise leadership of our great leader (Kim Il Sung).” 

Thinking about it now, I cannot believe that my father sincerely said such things to his children so often. It is truly incredible to what extent Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il used the regime and their power to gaslight the people and destroy their mental health. 

My father would often tell us, “If we had been born in South Korea or in the United States, our family members would have starved a long time ago.” But at the age of 13, in 1994, just like every other North Korean family, our family too faced starvation during the Arduous March.

My family, along with every other North Korean household, faced a terrible famine. At those times, I often asked myself, “Where did the warm embrace of Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il go?” 

Once, I asked my father this question. He remained silent, and I never dared to ask him again.


From that point onward, I began to doubt the wisdom of the leadership of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. 

These leaders ruled half the Korean Peninsula, amounting to 25 million people. But the people on North Korean soil could not defy their will. This is a formidable power. Why on earth would someone with such power do nothing to prevent the famine and poverty experienced by the people they claim to love so much? 

Kim Jong Il always liked to call North Koreans “my beloved people.” But I realized that he had never once loved his people, and viewed them only as slaves. The only thing the Kim family has ever given to destitute North Koreans is a frightening famine and a fractured economy.

The Kim family has always liked to remind people that our poverty and suffering were due to South Korea and the U.S., but I started not to believe those words. I wanted to know more about the U.S. and South Korea. I remember wondering how they could have developed so quickly if they were so bad.

School life in North Korea was not very pleasant. All of the financial demands for running the school or acquiring new educational facilities came from the purses of students and parents.  

The schools would collect construction materials from students needed to repair school buildings and fences, such as cement, sand and bricks. The computers and CCTVs that Kim Jong Un later ordered to be installed in every classroom were bought with sums collected from students. 

I grew tired of hearing about the greatness of the Kim family, recited daily by the teachers before our classes. But whether I liked it or not, as a student, I had to parrot countless phrases glorifying the Kim leaders and their dictatorship.

Later, after Kim Jong Un took power, the glorification of the Kim family’s dictatorship became even more absurd. We were dumbfounded by stories of Kim Jong Un driving cars from the age of 5 and his unmatched shooting skills at the age of 3. 

Educated through brainwashing, I graduated from middle school and became involved in the construction industry. However, with a salary of no more than 20 cents a month, I could not make a living. Hearing I would be able to make money in Russia, I decided to go. 

Kim Jong Un sent many workers to Russia, viewing overseas construction as an important source of foreign currency. Even now, he is sending domestic construction workers abroad to earn foreign currency. They work like slaves to earn money abroad, but most funds go to serve Kim himself and the workers receive only a paltry share. 

We worked almost 18 hours every day from 7 a.m. to midnight, earning around US$3,000 a month. But the regime took the majority of our earnings, meaning it would take us five years to send that same amount back home. In Russia, we were unable to make any money for ourselves.

The North Korean authorities have a principle where overseas workers’ wages are paid in North Korean won, instead of being paid in the local currency, for fear that the workers could flee with the money they’d earned.


My decision to defect was finalized by Kim Jong Un’s COVID-19 policy. When COVID-19 swept the world, Kim Jong Un sent instructions to North Korean embassies and companies overseas to regard infected persons as “traitors” and to deal with them as such. 

Infected persons were treated as “traitors” because they were seen to have become infected due to not complying with the regulations to prevent the spread of the disease. If you had become infected, the instruction was not to treat you but to deal with you as a traitor. When the workers who were with me at the time and I received these instructions, we were stunned. 

I no longer wanted to live as a slave to Kim Jong Un. I wanted to do anything I could to oppose the Kim family’s filthy hereditary dictatorship. I wanted to contribute not only to my own family but to the justice and welfare of all North Korean people. And I concluded that the best way would be to defect from North Korea. 

After a year of careful preparation, I was able to defect. It was only when I entered South Korea and became an ROK citizen that I was able to finally escape from the mysterious North Korean slave society, overdeveloped like the reproductive organs of the roundworm.

Edited by Alannah Hill



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