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North Korea Sends Workers to Russia-Occupied Territory in Eastern Ukraine

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North Korea Sends Workers to Russia-Occupied Territory in Eastern Ukraine

Pyongyang made the decision after concluding that Russia had gained the upper hand in its war with Ukraine.

North Korea Sends Workers to Russia-Occupied Territory in Eastern Ukraine
Credit: Depositphotos

North Korea recently sent workers to the Russian-occupied Donbas region of eastern Ukraine to help with reconstruction efforts, Daily NK has learned. Russia has set up and annexed two so-called republics on Ukrainian territory in the Donbas region: the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic. Only a a few other governments in the world recognize the DPR and LPR, including North Korea as well as Syria.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source in North Korea told Daily NK that about 150 new North Korean workers were sent to Donbas last January.

A first group of workers flew from Pyongyang to Vladivostok on Air Koryo, North Korea’s state airline, and then traveled to Donbas via Moscow. The rest of the workers traveled from Vladivostok to Volgograd and then on to Donbas.

The workers were divided into three workplaces under North Korea’s External Construction Guidance Bureau and the Ministry of Social Security, the source said.

The North Korean workers are currently helping to rebuild various structures in Donbas, including houses, schools, and shopping centers. Russians are also involved in the reconstruction work, but they generally handle more technical projects, such as bridges and communication facilities, while the North Korean workers are in charge of repairing buildings.

The North Korean authorities had drawn up plans as early as 2022 to send some of the workers already in Russia to Donbas and had even selected the workers in question.

“Although we supported the independence of the Donetsk People’s Republic, that was before our leader met with the Russian leader, and [North Korean] people who were in Russia could not be sent to Donetsk for various reasons,” the source said.

Then, in September 2023, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited Russia for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Since then, the two countries have apparently not only discussed practical matters related to personnel exchanges, such as operating more flights and sending more workers to Russia, but have also reached an agreement on involving North Korean workers in post-war reconstruction work. Hosting North Korean workers is a violation of United Nations sanctions.

Previously, the source said, North Korea was reluctant to send its own citizens to hard-fought battlefields.

But this year, North Korean authorities agreed to send workers to help rebuild Donbas after concluding that Russia had gained the upper hand in its war with Ukraine and that the Donbas region was firmly under Russian control.

“We [North Korea] agreed to mobilize workers [in the Donbas region] after consultations with Russia because we believe that Russia is winning the war against Ukraine,” said another source in North Korea.

According to a source in Russia, North Korea’s government recently provided workers assigned to Russia with educational materials detailing how Ukraine is losing to Russia and promoting the superiority of the socialist system.

Relatedly, North Korea recently ordered that young people be given more training in anti-American and anti-imperialist class consciousness. The training sessions mention the progress of Russia’s war against Ukraine and teach young people that imperialist fantasies have fatal consequences.

The source in Russia also said that Russia has agreed to pay North Korean workers in Donbas hazard pay in addition to their regular wages.

“Workers going to Donetsk will not have to give the North Korean government as big a cut as those working elsewhere in Russia. Since the workers will receive a danger pay on top of their wages from the Russian company, they will probably have to pay the state 60,000-70,000 rubles (870,000-1,020,000 North Korean won) per month,” the source said.

This article first appeared in Daily NK, which contacts multiple sources inside and outside North Korea to verify information. The Diplomat was not able to verify the claims independently.