United Kingdom

Russian diplomats forced to leave North Korea by pushing their way home in handcart

Meanwhile, there are reports of food shortages and deteriorating living conditions inside the authoritarian country as its economy edges closer to the brink of collapse than it has been in decades.  

Diplomats and aid workers have also faced even heavier restrictions on their freedom of movement, at times confined to their embassies and having to negotiate for weeks to arrange for special measures to allow them to leave the country.  

In May, the UK temporarily closed its embassy because “restrictions on entry to the country have made it impossible to rotate our staff and sustain the operation of the Embassy,” the UK Foreign Office said in a statement.  

The Russians’ passage home involved a 32-hour train ride, followed by a two-hour bus journey to reach the border crossing, which they then had to cross on foot using the trolley to transport their luggage and children.

The group then had to cross the border on foot, loading luggage and passengers onto to a trolley on the train tracks. Ministry officials greeted them at a border station on the Russian side, where they then travelled by bus to the Vladivostok airport.

State-run media in Moscow said that the diplomats were now heading to Moscow. 

Eight employees of the Russian embassy in Pyongyang have spent more than 34 hours trying to get home across the country’s closed borders, finishing their journey in a hand-operated rail cart.

The arduousness of the journey was caused by North Korea's sever pandemic restrictions, which have cut off almost all travel into and out of the country. 

The Russian foreign ministry posted two photos of the group crossing a snowy landscape and a video of the final stretch of the journey (see below), colourful luggage piled on the trolley, whooping with delight as they crossed the rail bridge over the Tumen River, which divides the two countries. 

It said the main "engine" of the handcar was the third secretary of the Embassy Vladislav Sorokin, and the youngest traveller was his three-year-old daughter Varya, adding that the diplomats had to push the vehicle for more than a kilometre.

The torturous journey was the only way the Russians could leave the reclusive nation, which sealed its borders last year as part of a drastic effort to keep Covid-19 at bay and stop the virus from causing the collapse of its crumbling health system.

Flights operated from Vladivostok in eastern Russia by Air Koryo, North Korea’s state-owned airline, have been suspended for some time.

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