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)

Following reports that the Russian ambassador to Pyongyang said that North Korean workers could help rebuild Ukraine, Daily NK has learned that the North Korean authorities have already selected workers to be dispatched to the pro-Russian Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.

North Korea’s leadership seems eager to send their compatriots to Ukrainian territory while the war is still raging, multiple sources told Daily NK.

A source in Russia told Daily NK on July 25 that the North Korean authorities had instructed companies operating in Russia to get ready to send workers to the war zone.

North Korean authorities are planning to send more than a thousand workers who are already in Russia to the Donbas region.

As a result, North Korean companies in Russia have until the end of the month to provide Pyongyang with lists of workers to dispatch.

In addition, the North Korean authorities have selected people inside the country to send to the Donbas region.

“The Overseas Construction Leadership Bureau, the Rungna Guidance Bureau, the Ministry of Fisheries, and the Ministry of Railways have assigned some workers on the waiting list to war areas [in Ukraine]. Those are the same organizations that recruited most workers dispatched to Russia in the past,” said a source inside North Korea.

North Korean authorities apparently plan to start by sending workers who are already in Russia to the Donbas region and then send additional workers in North Korea if requested by the Russian government.

Daily NK understands that North Korean authorities sent more workers to parts of Russia to earn foreign currency even after closing the national border to block the influx of COVID-19 in January 2020.

Given the current difficulty of sending North Korean workers overseas in large numbers, the North Korean authorities have apparently been sending them to Russia in small groups.

Amid rumors that workers dispatched to the war zone at the request of the Russian government will be given grueling and dangerous work for little pay, considerable numbers have reportedly been reluctant to go.

As a result, recruitment stalled in Pyongyang, and workers from the provinces made up most of those placed on the Donbas dispatch list.

However, the North Korean authorities have not yet ordered workers to begin moving to the Donbas region.

“Considering that the war isn’t over yet, the government is planning to send workers at an appropriate time while monitoring the situation on the ground,” the source in North Korea said.

“The Workers’ Party is making eager preparations because it regards the Russian request as a good opportunity to acquire foreign currency,” he added. 

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.