Blogger Alexander Belenkiy, from Russia, has travelled to many countries in the last decade, taking photos of areas the nation’s leaders don’t want the public to see. His most recent visit took to him China where he took photos of North Korea from the border.
China’s border with North Korea spans 880 miles (1,420 kilometres) long. From west to east, the Yalu River, Paektu Mountain, and the Tumen River divide the two countries. Dandong, in the Liaoning Province of China, on the Yalu River delta, is the largest city on the border.
Overall, his journey took him along 300 miles of the border. On several occasions he put himself at risk of being captured, shot, or “detained” as a foreign agent. North Korea attempts to create the appearance of a prosperous country, with painted houses and model towns with wooden facades.
Kijong-dong. Photo: US Air Force
Kijong-dong, also known as Peace Village, is an example of such a fake town. Known for having the world’s largest flag pole, it’s located on the border with South Korea in the the North’s part of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). The official claim is that the village houses 200 families, has a childcare centre, nursery (kindergarten), educations for all levels, and a hospital. However, military observers from the South declared the village to be ‘fake’ with no inhabitants and mostly made of wooden facades.
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Alexander claimed there were “very few foreigners” in the locations he visited, and claims “many of the pictures you will see are for the first time.”
“I travelled more than 500 kilometres through the most remote corners of North Korea. Was it dangerous? Definitely. But the risk was worth it.”
Leaving Dandong in China, Alexander headed north. From this location it was no more than ten metres from China’s border to North Korea’s.
The Chinese border is “almost not protected,” Alexander said. There are North Korean towns and watchtowers every hundred metres.
“There are foot patrols everywhere,” said Alexander. “This border is very special: they are needed around the world, the population is kept in the country.”
Pictures is a “propaganda village” for Chinese residents. “The inhabitants of border areas [question] the area and think ‘How can I believe the TV [when I see these villages]?”
Alexander claims this bridge was destroyed in an explosion, possibly occurring during the Korean War.
Another bridge is shown. This one was certainly bombed by US forces during the Korean War.
A patrol station is pictured on the end of another former bridge. North Korean soldiers can be seen with binoculars observing Alexander’s actions and the Chinese border.
How North Koreans actually live: A real North Korean village, unlike propaganda villages.
A view of the Chinese and North Korean borders. A model village is pictured (green roofs). These are situated in key places in order to attract the Chinese to defect.
A monument built before the Korean War shows that the countries once shared similar conditions, Alexander claims.
“Washing machines are not available so they [North Koreans] go to the rivers to wash clothes,” Alexander said.
The most common method of farming is pictured. A man can be seen pulling two bulls. Industrial farming equipment is not widely available in the communist regime.
A high school. Many villages and towns do not have schools past primary level. However, as this pictured village is on the border, it’s important to keep up appearances.
No information available.
Despite looking like builders, pictures are children during a PE lesson. During lessons they help build nearby houses.
“All the people I saw on the bank were busy with work. Nobody was able to admire the views, nobody was engaged in leisure activities,” Alexander said.
A railway station with the commonly-featured photographs of the country’s former leaders.
Another reflection of how the North Korean people really live — unlike the model villages displays along the majority of the border with China.
Empty and rundown houses in the countryside. “There are many places like this. People have no work to afford housing,” said Alexander.
Alexander was caught by men with binoculars. He claims they sounded an alarm and started burning fields in order to obstruct his view.
Another model village, mostly deserted. This is how the North Koreans want the world to picture the reclusive state.
An industrial zone. Alexander was unsure whether or not this was in use or for decoration and propaganda.
Finally, a view from China. This is what North Koreans living on the border see – lighting, industrial zones, and luxuries not available.