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North Korean college student goes missing in Russian Far East

Police lights. (Dreamstime/TNS)
July 17, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Russian authorities are on the lookout for North Korean college student Kim Tae Sung, who went missing in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk on July 8, leading to speculation that he may be seeking to avoid returning to his homeland, residents living there told Radio Free Asia.

Kim, 25, had been an exceptional student in North Korea and had been attending Khabarovsk’s Far Eastern State Transport University. 

Sources said he may have been able to escape the watchful eyes of other North Koreans around him by leaving while those who monitor the overseas North Korean community were in a state of mourning on July 8, the anniversary of the 1994 passing of national founder Kim Il Sung. 

If Kim’s intent is to escape, it would be the latest of several similar cases of North Koreans sent to Russia before the pandemic seemingly fleeing in advance of an anticipated post-pandemic border reopening between the two countries. 

In another recent case, RFA reported last month that a North Korean diplomat’s wife and son went missing in Vladivostok and local media reported that it could have been a possible defection.

Reports that Kim had disappeared and that authorities were looking for him appeared in the July 9 edition of the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily newspaper, a resident of Khabarovsk, who requested anonymity for personal safety, told RFA’s Korean Service on Tuesday.

“The [newspaper] released the details of a missing person’s report that included Kim Tae Sung’s physical description and identification at the time of his disappearance,” he said. “The young man was last seen on July 8th in Yashin Street.” 

The report also described Kim as 170 centimeters (5 feet 7 inches) tall with an average build, and said he had been wearing a white T-shirt, gray shorts and black rubber slippers at the time of his disappearance, the resident said.

Russian public security authorities left a phone number to call “but they still haven’t found him,” the resident said.

Liga Spas, a volunteer organization in Khabarovsk that helps locate missing people, are also raising awareness about Kim, another resident in the city told RFA, on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“A post looking for the missing Kim was posted on Liga Spa’s account on Russian social media,” the second resident said. “It’s been two days since Kim Tae Sung went missing but his whereabouts remain unclear. If the purpose was to escape, it can’t be ruled out that they may have already left the immediate area.”

Kim had come to Khabarovsk to study before the pandemic, he said.

“I know that he was a promising, outstanding student who completed the best education course in North Korea,” the second resident said.

North Korean authorities frequently request help from the Russian police whenever one of theirs goes missing, he said.

“It seems that North Korea is expressing its will [to North Koreans in Russia] that it will block their [attempts to] escape, even by employing the investigative power of local authorities,” the second resident said.

RFA was not able to confirm whether North Korean authorities are charging Kim with criminal activity. However, in the past, they have been known to make false accusations of murder, rape or theft against missing people, in order get the local authorities to open criminal investigations, which are of a higher priority than missing persons cases.