Nearly 400 South Koreans were reunited, albeit briefly, with their North Korean relatives in a private ceremony – more than 60 years after they were separated.
From 1950-53, millions of Koreans were displaced by the Korean Civil War. The conflict saw brothers, sisters, parents, wives and husbands ripped apart with no way of knowing if family members had survived.
The strange reunion is the result of a lottery in South Korea whereby 400 members are selected out of a hopeful 65,000. If successful, the lucky few board buses loaded with presents and gifts for their long-lost relatives, in the hope of reconnecting after a whole lifetime lived apart.
The 140 North Korean relatives were selected by the government, reportedly chosen for their loyalty to their North Korean leadership.
Among those reuniting was Lee Ok-yeon, an 88-year-old South Korean who was selected to reunite with her husband for the first time in 65 years.
As South Koreans are still prohibited from contacting, in any way, their North Korean relatives, there was no way for Lee to know if her husband was alive or not. As such, she had accepted his death and held rituals every year in her husband’s memory.
The two were separated when Lee was five months pregnant, after being married for only seven months.
When she was told that Oh In-se, her 83-year-old husband, was alive, Lee’s grandson revealed to local media that she “asked whether it was a dream or a reality”.
“I can’t tell how much I missed you,” Lee, who remained unmarried and raised her son alone, told her husband
“I have wept so much thinking of us that there are no tears left in me.”
“My dear, I didn’t know that the war would do this to us,” replied Oh as he held her hand in his.
Their son, Oh Jang-kyun, 64, who had grown up without ever knowing his father, sat by his father’s side as his parents were given the chance to finally reconnect after nearly 65 years.
He told reporters that he was looking forward to being able to say “Father” for the first time.
Whilst the South Korean relatives were given a list of appropriate gifts and allowable ‘talking points’, Lee brought her husband a gift she had waiting a lifetime to give – a simple gold watch, engraved with each of their names.
“Watches were precious in the past in the countryside…I’ve always regretted not being able to give [you] a watch.”
The couple’s reunion was cut short all too quickly though. As is custom for the rare reunions organised by the state, each family only receives 12 hours of face-to-face time, before being sent back to their side of the border.
Their departure makes way for the next round of family members waiting to be reunited.
The reunions, held at the Diamond Mountain resort in southeastern North Korea, offered a rare glimpse into the heartbreaking reality of political division between the two countries.