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’s government recently ordered North Korean trading companies in Russia to select personnel to send to Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine so they can take part in reconstruction efforts, Daily NK has learned.

According to a Daily NK source in Russia recently, North Korea issued the order on Jan. 20 to several trading companies, including the defense ministry-affiliated Cholhyon Construction and Kumrung Construction, which is affiliated with General Bureau 7 of the Ministry of Social Security.

Given that all the trading companies that received the order are affiliated with military or public security agencies, North Korea appears intent to send soldiers or police personnel – not civilians – to eastern Ukraine.

The government may have decided to do this because soldiers and public security personnel are easier to control and keep safe than civilians.

The personnel selected for the deployment to Ukraine are young men between the ages of 19 and 27; most are married, but left their families behind in North Korea.

Generally speaking, North Korean authorities prevent defections among workers posted abroad by sending married men who are forced to leaving their wives and children in North Korea.

PERSONNEL MAY ARRIVE IN UKRAINE IN MID-FEBRUARY OR MARCH

According to Daily NK’s source in Russia, North Korea told the companies to complete their personnel selections by the end of January. 

Given that the companies were given about 10 days to complete their selections, North Korea will likely send the personnel to Ukraine in mid-February or March, based on the source’s account. 

Because North Korean military and police-related entities across Russia were instructed to select personnel, just how many personnel North Korea will send to eastern Ukraine remains unknown.

However, when taking into account all the orders issued to major trading companies, the first batch will likely be about 300 to 500 men, the source said. 

The orders did not specify what tasks the personnel will be given when they arrive in eastern Ukraine, but they are unlikely to serve as mercenaries in the war.

The basic agreement between North Korea and Russia reportedly includes clauses not to involve North Koreans in the actual war, as the participation of the selected personnel in the conflict could make it appear like Pyongyang has sent mercenaries to Russia.

Given this, the selected personnel will likely take part in reconstruction efforts, repairing buildings and roads destroyed in the war.

Earlier this week, Daily NK reported that North Korea had quietly selected two batches of workers to send to Russia-occupied eastern Ukraine, but has held off on sending them for the time being due to the war’s current situation. 

A NEW WAY TO EARN FOREIGN CURRENCY?

North Korea’s move to recruit personnel to send to Ukraine from its citizens already in Russia appears aimed at not only cutting costs in terms of time and money in moving large numbers of people, but may also be a way of avoiding detection and criticism from the international community.

If North Korea does in fact dispatch personnel to Ukraine, it would provide the country with a new way to earn foreign currency.

What exactly North Korea is getting in return for sending people to Ukraine remains unknown, but some claim that the workers are to receive triple the wages North Korean laborers in Russia have traditionally received.

Moreover, given that soldiers and police officers receive fixed wages from the state even while they are deployed overseas, any extra income they receive goes into the nation’s coffers.

Daily NK’s source in Russia said that the authorities issued a sudden order to recruit personnel to be deployed in Ukraine on a temporary basis, but that after a successful first deployment, the government will expand the number of personnel being deployed into the country. 

“There’s money to be made, so there’s no reason not to send them,” he said.

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time reporters and covers North Korean economic and diplomatic issues, including workers dispatched abroad. Jang has a M.A. in Sociology from University of North Korean Studies and a B.A. in Sociology from Yonsei University. She can be reached at skjang(at)uni-media.net.