North Koreans finally hear about defector soldier’s dash across DMZ

News of the North Korean soldier who made a daring escape across the heavily militarized Korean border has just broken in North Korea and is captivating residents, reports an inside source. 
News concerning North Korea’s delegation to the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games – including Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong, a cheering squad, and the Samjiyon Orchestra – has been eclipsed by the story of the defector soldier.
“Even though news from the outside world is restricted and heavily censored, some information about the outside world still gets in,” said a Pyongyang-based source during a telephone call with Daily NK on February 9. “North Korean merchants active in China have returned to North Korea and began circulating the story of the defector soldier. Parents who have children in the military are particularly interested.”   
The incident is sparking diverse conversations among the residents. “After learning that the escaping soldier survived even though he was shot many times, people are saying, ‘In modern nations, medical technology is so advanced that they can save someone from the brink of death. He survived because he got surgery in South Korea. If he got surgery here, there’s no way he would have made it.’” the source said.
“People are also discussing the fact that parasites were found during the surgery. They are saying that this reveals the real environment that soldiers are forced to deal with. They are given ineffective supplements to treat roundworm, something that doesn’t even resemble medicine.”
North Korea supplies residents with one dose of roundworm medicine in the spring and one in the fall. In some regions, liquid medicine is given and in others, pills are given. But many have little faith in the medicine and discard it. Instead, roundworm medicine is commonly purchased from the markets, and is seen to be more effective. 
The situation for the military is even more dire. Soldiers are told to eat lightly one day prior to administration of the drug, so most simply refuse to take the medicine at all. 
“In the military, they give soldiers some porridge the day before they are told to eat the roundworm medicine. But these are growing and hungry soldiers. They are weary and tired from training all day and they sometimes disobey orders by having a late night snack. Many regard the medicine as useless and don’t even bother taking it,” the source said.
News of the escaped soldier is spreading particularly quickly in the border region near China, where more residents communicate with the outside world. 
“The residents in the border region are surprised to learn that they [South Korea] saved the life of a soldier who would normally point a gun at them. His life was saved, his disease was cured, and he managed a successful defection enabling a truly new start to life,” a source from Ryanggang Province said.
When asked why the Pyeongchang Olympics was not becoming a bigger topic of conversation among North Koreans, the Ryanggang-based source said, “At first, people thought it was amazing that South Korea was hosting the Olympics again, but overall, we don’t think it impacts our lives. We just hope that relations will improve after this. Most people aren’t interested in who is participating and who is going [to the Games].”  
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to