Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Vladivostok, Russia, on April 25, 2019. (Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via Reuters)

North Korea has completed the process of selecting workers to take part in reconstruction efforts in Russian-occupied parts of eastern Ukraine, with plans to send the workers to the region in early November.

A source in North Korea told Daily NK on Monday that the authorities carried out the selection in Pyongyang from July, and that “800 to 1,000” workers were recruited.

Daily NK reported in August that North Korea had planned to send some North Korean workers already in Russia to the Donbas, and that North Korean authorities had also selected workers in North Korea to dispatch to the region.

In fact, Daily NK’s source said the newly selected workers in North Korea would be sent in turns in small teams of 30 to 60 people.  

“No firm date has been selected, but they plan to send the selected workers in early November as they select new workers,” he said.

This suggests that North Korea — having weighed when to send the workers while carefully watching the progress of the war — is preparing to send personnel in early November, and also intends to conduct a second round of selections of workers to send to the Donbas.

As for how the workers would get where they need to go, officials are discussing plans to send them by train from the northeastern city of Rason, or by flying them aboard an Air Koryo flight to Vladivostok. Also reportedly being discussed is a plan to send them to Moscow or Saint Petersburg via Beijing.

The source said China has “decided to feign ignorance” since the workers are only transiting through the country, not stepping foot in it.

“North Korea, China and Russia have agreed that sending North Korean workers to Russian-occupied areas would not constitute a violation of sanctions,” he said.

The source added that since sending the workers to Russia through Beijing would cost about the same as sending them through Vladivostok, officials are largely considering sending the workers through the Russian city. 

Adopted in December of 2017, United Nations Security Council Resolution 2397 bans the dispatch of North Korean workers overseas. The source said North Korea has been considering ways to circumvent these sanctions, and is now strongly considering plans to directly send workers to Russia. 

North Korea’s decision to send the workers in several rotations rather than all at once was likely made with sanctions in mind, too. 

The Economic Affairs Department of the Workers’ Party’s Central Committee managed the selection of workers to send to the Donbas, according to the source. 

“The Supreme Leader [Kim Jong Un] has direct authority to select and dispatch workers to send overseas, but in 2021, the Central Committee’s Economic Affairs Department was named the department with the authority over the selection and dispatch of workers overseas,” said the source.

“The Economic Affairs Department issues its recommendations to the agencies in charge, selecting, managing and dispatching the people on the list, while Cabinet ministries and regional party committees all do as the Economic Affairs Department commands,” he added. 

In particular, the source said most of the people who volunteered to work in the Donbas hail from areas outside of Pyongyang. He said since provincial people are on the verge of death either way, they volunteered “ready to die just to hold a single dollar bill, even if they have to pay their planned contributions.”

This means provincial residents suffering from economic distress volunteered to head overseas and make money, even in the face of physical danger and excessive “loyalty fund’ payments.

On the other hand, most residents of the capital Pyongyang and other major cities avoided applying due to the dangers in what amounts to a conflict zone, no matter how much the Russians claim to “occupy” it.

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