SEOUL, South Korea – Three years ago, out of work and starving, Kim Gum-hyok climbed Mount White Horse near Kaesong, his North Korean hometown, instigating the futility of life.
Not far to the south, across a river, 21-year-olds can see tall buildings in South Korea, lit in glare. The sight interrupted him.
After two nights on the mountain, Mr. Kim crossed the world’s heaviest armed border to get it. He made his way through went crawling down the layers of fence with barbed wire and down, and Mainfilds. Inshore, she perfecting a life jacket hidden between the reeds, washed plastic waste. When night fell, he began swimming.
“I floated towards the light,” Mr. Kim spoke of his seven-and-a-half hours being in the water, in an interview that a North Korean partner posted on YouTube. “When I finally landed from the South Korean side and walked with the reeds and saw the South Korean soldiers coming near, I was so tired that I fell.”
This month, after three years of life in the South, Mr Kim went back – swimming in the same river he crossed in 2017, South Korean officials said. On Sunday, North Korea said it may have brought Coronovirus to the country for the first time and put it under locking in Kaesong, Mr. Kim’s hometown.
On Monday, a South Korean police department said that before Mr. Kim left, a warrant was issued for his arrest on a rape charge.
North Korea did not identify Mr. Kim in his statement. But South Korea said it was the only defender of the South that had gone back north this month. The South did not disclose his full name, but it released enough information for reporters to establish his identity.
And other guards who knew him – including YouTube interviewer, Kim Jin-ah, a woman from Kaesong – confirmed that it was him, uploading Mr. Kim’s photos to social media.
The week before he left, Mr. Kim, now 24, gave several interviews for Kim Jin-ah’s YouTube channel, Lady From Kaesong, talking about her life in two choruses. He used a nickname and wore sunglasses, and in some clips his face was digitally altered. What he said could not be independently verified.
“I once visited my apartment in late June and I was surprised that it was bare of furniture,” Ms. Kim said in a video posted after Mr. Kim’s return to the north. “Looking back, I think he was already preparing to leave South Korea.”
Even before Mr. Kim returned, his story was an unusual one. Most of the 33,000 North Korean defenders now living in South Korea reached there via China and Southeast Asia. But some people, such as Mr. Kim, made the dangerous decision to cross the Inter-Korean border.
The return of a defender, however – to a desolate economy and a dictatorship that calls “human scum” culprits – is rare. According to the Unification Ministry of the South, XI has done so in the last five years. Like many convicts, those who go back often have trouble accommodating the independent capitalist society of the South.
In one of the YouTube interviews, Mr. Kim stated that he had lost most of his hearing at an early age. “Because of that, I had difficulty communicating with people,” he said. “I was beaten up because I was asked to bring one thing and brought something else.”
When he was still a child, Kasong, a city of 300,000, was chosen as the site of an industrial park run jointly by the two Koreas. It opened in 2004, and Kaesong became a boomtown, waking up with cash. Mr. Kim’s cousins worked in the park, he said, and he sold eggs and vegetables himself.
But four years ago, the South closed the campus in a dispute over the North’s nuclear weapons program. The economy crashed, and Mr. Kim soon went out of work, like many others. (Last month, with another less inter-Korean relationship, the North blew up an office in Kasong that it operated jointly with the South.)
By the time he climbed Mount White Horse in June of 2017, Mr. Kim told Ms. Kim he had “no hope for the future, no meaning in life, thinking that I should live or die . ” He said that South Korean buildings at night forced him to “go there and even check it out if I meant my death”.
Mr. Kim said that he could not remove his eyes from South Korean television during his debriefing by the authorities, which all pass after the convicts came to the south. In response, all television sets preset to government propaganda channels.
Mr. Kim settled in Gimpo, a town across the Han River from Kasong. A doctor can fix the problem of the hearing that he had lived since childhood. He did not give Ms. Kim any information about her condition or treatment, but he told her that he cried that day.
He also tells her that he misses his parents a lot. He enrolled in a vocational school that offers defectors in the South as part of a rehabilitation program. But he said he quit work and hoped to send money to his family, as guards often work through middlemen in China.
According to Ms. Kim, the off camera Mr. Kim accepted something else.
He told her that he was being investigated by the police as another guards accused him of rape. He told Ms. Kim that she was so drunk at night on the question that she did not remember anything.
With Mr. Kim now in reply, it is impossible to contact him for comment. But police in Gimpo confirmed that a warrant had been issued for his arrest.
On July 17, officials say, Mr. Kim arrived at Gangahwa Island, which was probably the first time he set foot on South Korean soil. At 2:20 am on the 18th morning, he got out of a taxi on the northern side of the island. During that time, she sent her final text message to Ms. Kim.
“I really didn’t want to lose you because you were like a big sister to me,” she wrote according to Ms. Kim, who read the message on YouTube. “As long as I live, I will repay your debt.”
Ms. Kim, who was working at the 24-hour convenience store when the message arrived, arrived at Mr. Kim’s apartment as soon as her shift ended, she told her audience.
He finds out that he left the apartment a few days ago, withdrawing his deposit. She said that she had also sold a used car that she had borrowed from him, apparently thinking she could raise as much money before going home.
South Korean officials concluded that Mr. Kim had passed through a brook crawling three feet in diameter, which runs under barbed wire fences on the northern edge of Ganghwa. He led her to the Han River, which he believes swam back.
In a bag near the drain, officials found bank receipts indicating that Mr. Kim withdrew the 5 million South Koreans he had won from his account, then converted most to $ 4,000.
What happened to Mr. Kim after the crossing is unknown. North Korea said on Sunday that it was in quarantine, “accusing it of causing a dangerous situation in Kaesong City that it could be a deadly and devastating disaster.”