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South Korea

Postcard From The Korean DMZ, The Last Cold War Border

Bill Clinton once called it 'the most terrifying place on earth.' A no-man's land with barbed wire and robot sentries, the area between the two Koreas has also become an unlikely wildlife refuge.

Watching over the DMZ from South Korea on DMZ, South Korea. Inter Korean summit held on April 26
Watching over the DMZ from South Korea on DMZ, South Korea. Inter Korean summit held on April 26
Yann Rousseau

TONGILCHON — Kim Dan-geum would never have thought of the DMZ as an escape route. In September 2013, like all North Korean defectors, she opted instead to cross the Tumen River to China — at a cost of $2,000. After 10 years in the North Korean army, where she'd reached the rank of captain, she knew that the southern border — the famous Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ — was just too dangerous.

"Everyone in the country knows it's impassable," says the former military officer, who found a job with an insurance company in Seoul, where she finally arrived in late 2014 after fleeing through the mountains of Southeast Asia. "Even as a senior officer, it was inaccessible to me. The government only sends soldiers from powerful and loyal families," Kim Dan-geum adds. "They fear humiliating dissent on this crucial line."

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May 21-22

  • A liberated Ukrainian village
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