A group of Russian diplomats and family members used a hand-pushed rail trolley to leave North Korea this week, amid Pyongyang’s strict anti-coronavirus measures, which include blocking most forms of passenger transport across the border.
North Korea has not reported any confirmed cases of the coronavirus but has imposed crippling border closures, banned most international travel, and severely restricted movement inside the country.
“Since the borders have been closed for more than a year and passenger traffic has been stopped, it took a long and difficult journey to get home,” Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a post on social media.
The group of eight, including a three-year-old, travelled 32 hours by train and two hours by bus from Pyongyang just to reach the Russian border on Thursday, the post said.
🛤25 февраля на Родину вернулись 8 россиян-сотрудников российского Посольства в КНДР и членов их семей.
🚩Поскольку вот уже больше года границы закрыты и пассажирское сообщение прекращено, добираться домой пришлось долгим и трудным путём…
— МИД России 🇷🇺 (@MID_RF) February 25, 2021
Translation: On February 25, eight Russian employees of the Russian Embassy in the DPRK and their family members returned to their homeland.
Since the borders have been closed for more than a year and passenger traffic has been stopped, it took a long and difficult journey to get home…
The group then had to cross the border on foot, loading luggage and passengers onto a trolley on the train tracks.
Photos and video released by the ministry show the trolley, laden with brightly coloured bags and suitcases, being pushed across a wintry landscape.
Embassy third secretary Vladislav Sorokin was the trolley’s “engine”, the ministry said, by pushing it for more than one kilometre (0.6 miles), including across a rail bridge over the Tumen River, which divides the two countries.
Ministry officials greeted the group at a border station on the Russian side, where they then travelled by bus to Vladivostok airport, the post said.
During the past year, the number of foreign diplomats in Pyongyang has dwindled, with many Western embassies closing, citing the bans on rotating staff.
Those who left often had to negotiate for weeks to arrange for special measures to allow them to depart.
The North has not confirmed even a single case of COVID-19 – although experts have long said it is unlikely to have escaped the pandemic – and in September the commander of US forces in the South said Pyongyang had issued shoot-to-kill orders in its border areas.
It imposed a strict border closure last January to try to protect itself from the virus that first emerged in China, its main ally.
While denying any single COVID-19 case, Pyongyang has attempted to steal information on coronavirus vaccines and treatments by hacking Pfizer, the US pharmaceutical firm whose highly effective COVID-19 vaccine is being given to millions of people around the world, South Korea’s intelligence agency said.