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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.
A combination picture shows Baek Hwa-sung, 33, posing for a photograph (top) and diaries written by him, 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