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Family’s dramatic North Korea escape

Russian diplomats and their families have made a dramatic escape from North Korea despite the rouge nation’s tightly sealed borders and strict bans on outgoing travel.

The few diplomats working in Pyongyang have been effectively locked in for months after leader Kim Jong-un shut down borders and stopped international flights and trains from entering and leaving.

But eight Russian embassy workers and their families managed to get out after a gruelling 34-hour escape mission, which involved pushing their luggage on train tracks over the border into Russian territory.

The Russian Foreign Ministry shared vision of embassy secretary Vladislav Sorokin pushing a handcart carrying three of his children and all the family’s belongings as older members of the family walked alongside.

Handcarts are a type of railway car from the 1800s powered by pump action levers or people manually pushing from behind, CNN reported.

The other diplomats and their families fled North Korea in much the same way.

Their escape began in Pyongyang with a 32-hour journey on North Korea’s shambolic and notoriously slow train network, followed by a two-hour bus ride to the Russian border.

The handcarts were used to complete the journey across the border, with Mr Sorokin pushing his family for about a kilometre — including a stretch over the Tumen River that separates both countries, which the Russian foreign ministry said was the “toughest section” of the trip.

Once the diplomats reached a Russian border station they were assisted by government colleagues who helped them to the airport at Vladivostok, in eastern Russia.

The Russian foreign ministry said it was the only way the diplomats could leave North Korea.

“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 ministry said.

The number of foreign diplomats in North Korea has plummeted over the past year with western embassies closing and transport options limited, Reuters reported.

They often had to spend weeks negotiating with North Korean officials to arrange for the special conditions that would allow them to leave.

Those who have chosen to remain in Pyongyang have reported grocery shortages and rising unemployment in the capital.

North Korea has not reported a single case of COVID-19, and there has been no indication of a secret outbreak, but it has still enforced a tough national lockdown, including suspensions on international travel.

Flight links to Vladivosok, operated by state-owned airline Air Koryo, have been suspended for months.

In a bid to safeguard North Korea from the global health crisis, Kim Jong-un has also put a stop on imports, including from its main trading partner, China.

North Korea experts say Kim’s efforts to stop the virus from entering the country was largely because he knew his country’s healthcare system was too weak to handle an outbreak, according to CNN.

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