[평양 밖 북한] The impact of coronavirus on North Korean labor in Russia

A local restaurant (above) and a historical plaque where Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un came and went. /Photo = Provided by Professor Dong-Wan Kang, Dong-A University

I went on a business trip to Vladivostok, Russia, for about 10 days from September 29th. This is to check how the lives of North Korean workers dispatched overseas have changed since their last visit here in January 2020.

UN Security Council Resolution 2397 on sanctions against North Korea stipulates that all North Korean workers dispatched overseas must be repatriated by December 22, 2019. However, as the flight between Pyongyang and Vladivostok was completely suspended due to the COVID-19 that covered the world in 2020, some workers were unable to return to North Korea and were stranded.

Until 2020, when they were officially licensed and working, it was not difficult to find North Korean workers at any construction site in Vladivostok. However, this visit showed that the number had significantly decreased.

As their visas have expired, it was difficult to find foreign workers dispatched to Russia at large construction sites in Vladivostok as before. The positions left by North Korean workers were being filled by workers from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

In Russia, there are many apartments built during the former Soviet Union, and many private houses are remodeled. A worker who speaks Russian to some extent and has skills lives alone, speaking so-called lemont (a word mostly used by North Korean workers for remodeling). It is about once a week that they go to the group dormitory, pay the compensation, and have a general meeting.

When working at a large construction site, most of the lodging and meals are lived in groups in a building temporarily installed on the site. What I confirmed during this business trip was that it was difficult to find North Korean workers anywhere in large construction sites. According to the testimonies of local workers, most of the lemonts are done individually, and the general meeting, which used to be held once a week, is mostly done through phone reports due to concerns about corona infection.

A local North Korean restaurant in Vladivostok, Goryeogwan. /Photo = Provided by Professor Dong-Wan Kang, Dong-A University

Meanwhile, there are three or four North Korean restaurants in Vladivostok. Even before Corona, it was so crowded that there were no seats for Korean tourists and local customers. Among them, Goryeogwan and Pyongyanggwan were operating normally, and Geumgangsan Restaurant was closed. Geumgangsan Restaurant is close to the Eagle Observatory, a representative tourist attraction in Vladivostok, so it is a place visited by many Korean tourists.

A North Korean restaurant employee was very sensitive to a visit from a South Korean, and even stopped taking pictures or videos. He said that North Korean alcohol and cosmetics sold at the restaurant could not be brought in because the plane was blocked. Flights were suspended due to the corona virus, so people and goods could not come and go, but it did not seem to be controlled because of sanctions against North Korea. The North Korean restaurant is still crowded with customers, and the proceeds will go directly to Kim Jong-un’s government funds.

In addition, the Rodong Sinmun on April 26, 2021 reported that Kim Jong-un had set up a historical plaque to commemorate his visit to Vladivostok. In fact, when I checked, two historical plaques were installed side by side on the platform of the Vladivostok train station along with the contents of Kim Jong-il’s visit in 2002. It can be said that it clearly shows that the Corona virus is not having such a big impact on the political sympathy between North Korea and Russia.

*The external author’s column may not match the editorial direction of this magazine.


Source: DailyNK by www.dailynk.com.

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