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North Korea allows Russian tourists to visit country again since the pandemic – and first to have been say it’s ‘surreal’


The first Russian tourists allowed to visit North Korea since the start of the pandemic have described their trip as ‘surreal.’

Ilya Voskresensky and Elena Bychokva were among a group of 100 Russians who signed up for a recent tour of the country.

The group flew from Vladivostok to Pyongyang on North Korea’s only airline Air Koryo and enjoyed activities including snowboarding, sightseeing and music recitals.

It comes amid the burgeoning ‘special relationship’ between North Korea and Russia recently lauded by Vladimir Putin.

‘It’s like stepping back in time,’ travel blogger Voskresensky from St Petersburg told CNN

Russian tourists allowed to visit North Korea have described their trip as 'surreal'

 Russian tourists allowed to visit North Korea have described their trip as ‘surreal’ 

The group flew from Vladivostok to Pyongyang on North Korea's only airline Air Koryo and were treated to typical activities including snowboarding and sightseeing

The group flew from Vladivostok to Pyongyang on North Korea’s only airline Air Koryo and were treated to typical activities including snowboarding and sightseeing

The 100 tourists were taken around the capital city, which was eerily empty and strangely quiet according to the visitors

The 100 tourists were taken around the capital city, which was eerily empty and strangely quiet according to the visitors

‘Reminiscent of the stories my grandparents taught me about life in the Soviet Union the empty streets, the lack of advertisements – it’s surreal.’

Voskresensky shared video of him snowboarding along eerily empty slopes, as well as cruising along ghostly roads throughout the capital city.

‘The meticulous preparations for our visit felt like being in a theater production,’ Bychoka, a marketing professional, said. 

‘But amidst the choreographed scenes I couldn’t shake the feeling there’s another side to North Korea, one that remains hidden.’

She showed video of a carefully controlled children’s music recital, which showed smiling youngsters performing in perfect harmony.

North Korea’s invitation to Russian tourists is further evidence of the strengthening ties between the two countries.

Russia has been using North Korean missiles during its invasion of Ukraine.

On Monday, it was reported that Putin had gifted the North Korean leader a a Russian-made car for his personal use.

A report confirming the gift didn’t say what kind of vehicle Putin gave the North Korean dictator or how it was shipped.

Elena Bychkovka was among the first Russian tourists allowed into North Korea

Ilya Voskresensky jumped at the chance to visit the notoriously impenetrable country

Elena Bychkovka (left) and Ilya Voskresensky (right) were among the first Russian tourists allowed into North Korea

Bychkovka described the 'meticulously' planned trip as like being in the theater, and suggested there is more to the country that the controlled image they were shown

Bychkovka described the ‘meticulously’ planned trip as like being in the theater, and suggested there is more to the country that the controlled image they were shown

It comes amid the burgeoning 'special relationship' between North Korea and Russia recently lauded by Vladimir Putin

It comes amid the burgeoning ‘special relationship’ between North Korea and Russia recently lauded by Vladimir Putin

Voskresensky said the visit was like 'stepping back in time' to the stories of the Soviet era his grandparents told him

Voskresensky said the visit was like ‘stepping back in time’ to the stories of the Soviet era his grandparents told him

But observers said it could violate a UN resolution that bans supplying luxury items to North Korea in an attempt to pressure the country to abandon its nuclear weapons.

North Korea and Russia have boosted their cooperation significantly since Kim traveled to Russia last September for a summit with Putin.

During Kim’s visit to Russia’s main spaceport, Putin showed the North Korean leader his personal Anrus Senat limousine and Kim sat in its backseat.

Relations between North Korea and the US have soured by comparison, ever since the failed Hanoi Summit between then-president Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in 2019.

Visitors from the US have been banned in North Korea ever since 2017.

But an American tourist on a heavily controlled visit to the country recently got a glimpse into the nation’s attitude towards the US. 

‘What would you say is the common perception of, let’s say, the United States in North Korea, in DPRK?’ Jesse Romberg implored his unnamed guide – with DPRK short for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is what the nation calls itself.

‘Up to now, we have no history of invasion. Korea – DPRK – has no history of invasion,’ the unnamed man began.

On a tour of North Korea, content creator Jesse Romberg decided to ask his state-appointed tour guide about the country's relationship to the United States

On a tour of North Korea, content creator Jesse Romberg decided to ask his state-appointed tour guide about the country’s relationship to the United States

In Jesse's Instagram Highlights reel from his trip to North Korea, he explained he accessed the country via Chinese tourist agency

In Jesse’s Instagram Highlights reel from his trip to North Korea, he explained he accessed the country via Chinese tourist agency 

His guide appeared to reflect the viewpoint of the citizens within the totalitarian regime as many viewers pointed out that the guide's narrative wasn't quite reflective of the whole story

His guide appeared to reflect the viewpoint of the citizens within the totalitarian regime as many viewers pointed out that the guide’s narrative wasn’t quite reflective of the whole story 

‘[America] have invaded so many countries. But there’s no history of invasion [from DPRK],’ he continued.

‘We didn’t do any harmful things to America but America invaded our country.

‘Still they’re in the southern part of our country. And still they’re pushing hostile policies against our country, and sanctions against our country,’ he continued.

‘So what we want to say [to the US] is leave our country, lift all sanctions – then we can recover relations… Relations between American and our country will get better.’

In speaking about the invasion of Korea, the guide is referring to the Korean War which began when North Korea, led by Kim Il-sung and backed by the Soviet Union, invaded South Korea in 1950 and the US’ subsequent involvement.

Away from the façade constructed for tourists, life in the country under Kim’s brutal regime remains bleak for many of his 26 million citizens.

Residents cannot leave the country without the permission of the government, on punishment of death.

Speaking out against the government can also be punished by death – making it the prospect of questioning one of its citizens about international relations on camera rather fraught.

North Korea and Russia have boosted their cooperation significantly since Kim traveled to Russia last September for a summit with Putin

North Korea and Russia have boosted their cooperation significantly since Kim traveled to Russia last September for a summit with Putin

American tourists have been banned from North Korea since 2017, with relations only worsening following the failed Hanoi summit in 2019

 American tourists have been banned from North Korea since 2017, with relations only worsening following the failed Hanoi summit in 2019

For many North Koreans, life is a far cry from the pristine, tourist-friendly image presented to the group with a UN report in 2019 suggesting up to 40 percent of the country go hungry

For many North Koreans, life is a far cry from the pristine, tourist-friendly image presented to the group with a UN report in 2019 suggesting up to 40 percent of the country go hungry

Horrific details of the condition’s in his gulags recently emerged in a documentary showing defectors desperately trying to flee from North Korea.

In the gripping documentary Beyond Utopia: Escape from North Korea, harrowing footage reveals the lengths desperate people will go to to leave Kim Jong-un’s regime full of famines, a developing economic crisis and crippling international sanctions.

One defector said he didn’t make it out and was detained in North Korea during his escape attempt, where he was tortured for nine months and was starved to the point he only weighed 35kg (77lbs).

Meanwhile, a 2019 report from the UN Human Rights Office said as many as 40 per cent of the country go hungry after the collapse of socialist systems intended to provide them with food. 

‘People in (North Korea) are trapped in a vicious cycle, in which the failure of the state to provide for life’s basic necessities forces them to turn to rudimentary markets where they face a host of human rights violations in an uncertain legal environment,’ the UN office said in a separate news release. 



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