North Korea sealed its borders in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic began to grip the globe. They cut off vital food supplies and made it impossible to leave, while also further curbing the domestic freedoms of its citizens.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un spent £398m on nuclear tests in 2022

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un spent £398m on nuclear tests in 2022 (Image: AP )

Three nationals have revealed the devastating living conditions inside what has become the most secretive and closed off state in the world. The anonymous sources spoke of the prevailing fear of “starving to death” or being executed for flouting the rules as North Korea’s closed borders appear to have initiated what experts fear could become a country-wide famine.

Under the guise of shielding themselves from , the closure of the borders has empowered authorities to stop importing grain from , as well as the fertilisers and machinery needed to grow food, leading to the starvation of its people while dictator continues to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on developing his nuclear weapons programme.

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One woman living in the capital city of Pyongyang, just 125 miles from the South Korean border, where citizens live freely, described knocking on the door of a family of three one day, only to find that they had died of starvation.

Using the pseudonym Ji Yeon, she said that when the authorities eventually entered the property, “they found [the family] dead”.

A construction worker who lives near the Chinese border, using the fake name Chan Ho, said food supplies were so low that five people in his village had already died from starvation.

He said that while he used to be afraid of dying from coronavirus, he had “begun to worry about starving to death” instead.

North Koreans walk past a shelf displaying imported snacks from China in Pyongyang

North Koreans walk past a shelf displaying imported snacks from China in Pyongyang (Image: AP )

The closure of the borders on both ends of North Korea entirely shut down the smuggled goods industry in the state.

Having already been faced with food shortages, many of North Korea’s citizens had become reliant on these smuggled goods, both selling and buying them, to maintain their living.

But a market trader from the north of the country, using the pseudonym Myong Suk, said that the shelves in her local market, formerly stacked with majority-Chinese produce, were “empty now”.

She told the BBC that most of her income had disappeared and her family has never had so little to eat.

From Pyongyang, Ji Yeon said she had heard of people who had killed themselves at home or disappeared into the mountains to die, because they could no longer make a living.

READ MORE: We should back a united Korea, says JONATHAN SAXTY [OPINON]

A TV screen in South Korea shows an image of North Korea's rocket launch in May

A TV screen in South Korea shows an image of North Korea's rocket launch in May (Image: AP )

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She added that at one point she went two days without eating and thought she was going to die in her sleep.

North Korea economist Peter Ward told the BBC that it was “very concerning” to see that food shortages had become so dire that “normal, middle-class people are seeing starvation in their neighbourhoods”.

Meanwhile, the North Korean state has reportedly ordered guards to shoot anyone trying to cross, and the three sources spoke of the horror stories of those allegedly killed attempting to make it out of the state despite the heightened risk.

The construction worker Chan Ho said his friend's son had recently witnessed several closed-door executions. In each one, three to four people had been killed for attempting to escape.


    “Every day it gets harder to live,” he said. “One wrong move and you are facing execution.”

    In the capital, Ji Yeon said the surveillance and crackdowns were now so ruthless that people did not trust each other.

    She said that under additional laws, passed in December 2020, known as the Reactionary Ideology and Culture Rejection Act, those caught distributing South Korean content were facing possible execution.

    When the BBC put these accusations to the North Korea government, they claimed that their people’s “well-being is our foremost priority”.

    They also said the information was “not entirely factual”, claiming it had been “derived from fabricated testimonies from anti-DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] forces.”