Moscow – Eight Russian diplomats and their families became unlikely to become a social media sensation on Friday after crossing the border from North Korea in a hand-pushed rail car.
Because of Covid-19, by closing borders and restricting travel, diplomats were forced to relinquish hopes of red carpet treatment when they left Pyongyang and had to use an elaborate and unusual method to travel home.
After a 32-hour train ride and a two-hour bus ride, their car, loaded with children and luggage, was pushed to the area closer to the border on the last 0.6-mile section separating the two countries.
“The most important part of the route was a pedestrian crossing to the Russian side,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a Facebook post.
“They had to prepare the cart in advance, put it on rails, place the luggage, put the kids in, and then set off … They had to push the whole train by rail for more than a mile,” he added.
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The trip included crossing the railway bridge over the Tumen River, a body of water that serves as a natural border between North Korea and Russia, as well as China.
According to the ministry, the third secretary of the Russian embassy, Vladislav Sorokin, was the “engine” of the handcart. The youngest passenger was her three-year-old daughter, Varya.
The video shows that on the Russian side, they were greeted with cheers from the Foreign Ministry, who greeted them as they finished their journey through the hilly, barren landscape. From there, they were taken to Vladivostok, Russia’s largest city in the Far East, located along the Pacific coast.
“We will not leave our own,” the ministry said in a statement.
North Korea, which was already one of the most isolated countries in the world before the Covid-19 epidemic, closed its doors even tighter to fight the virus.
Last year, it severely restricted air and rail ties with neighboring China and Russia – the two countries that arguably most normalized border ties with Pyongyang.
Russia’s Pyongyang mission was among the few that remained with some personnel. Most embassies were completely closed earlier this year, and staff were flown out with a North Korean diploma.
North Korea has not reported internal Covid numbers, and we know very little about the epidemic within the closed country.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rarely turned to the pandemic, but last October he asked an unusual, tearful apology from the North Korean people for failing during this crisis – perhaps indicating that the country had been hit much worse than they had been allowed to.
“Our people had as high a confidence in me as the sky and as deep as the sea, but I didn’t always manage to meet that satisfactorily,” he said at the time, according to the Korea Times.
– I’m really sorry.
Russia has historically maintained relations with North Korea, with which it shares a common border. The two countries maintained normal trade relations before the pandemic, and North Korean workers were not unheard of in the Far East.