Asia-Pacific

Winter Olympics: Displaced Koreans long for reunification

Yoon Il-Young and his wife Park Jo-Ja. Source: Kirsty Johansen / SBS News

Yoon Il-Young fled North Korea in 1947. He hasn't seen his brother since.

SBS News reporter Kirsty Johansen is in South Korea ahead of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games (9-25 February).

As 82-year-old Yoon Il-Young reads a letter he wrote to his brother he thought he may never see again, he is overwhelmed with emotion. The title of the message reads: “The letter that cannot be sent”. 

Mr Yoon was just 10 years old when he escaped North Korea with his mother in 1947. They fled, he says, after she was tortured and sent to prison several times by the Russian military, before the Korean War began in 1950.

Yoon Il-Young and his wife Park Jo-Ja.
Yoon Il-Young and his wife Park Jo-Ja.
Kirsty Johansen / SBS News

“We passed the checkpoint early in the morning. One of our farmhands informed us of when the combined Korean and Russian patrols were asleep.”

His closest brother Yoon Don-Young disappeared during the international offensive to retake what is now known as North Korea. He doesn’t know whether or not he is still alive but hopes one day they will be reunited.

Yoon Il-Young with his mother Nam Gyeong-Hwee.
Yoon Il-Young with his mother Nam Gyeong-Hwee.
Supplied

“Before I die, I’ve requested to meet my family on the other side. I need to see my brother and I would like for us to go back to our hometown and visit our father’s grave and pay our respects,” Mr Yoon said. 

He hopes recent dialogue between the two Koreas and cooperation over the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics will finally lead to the reunification of the two countries.

“Even though I don’t trust the North Korean government, this time I’m desperately waiting and hoping that things will be different,” said Mr Yoon.

Security outside the Blue House, the presidential palace, in Seoul.
Security outside the Blue House, the presidential palace, in Seoul.
Kirsty Johansen / SBS News

But what was once held as a sacrosanct goal doesn't necessarily ring true for every generation. Some younger South Koreans see the idea of reuniting the peninsula as unrealistic.

Seoul resident Hong Cheol Shin says the move is also undesirable. “North Korea is poor and their people are very different to our people,” he told SBS News.

Park Eun Jeong says she can’t afford for her taxes to be increased: “I’m concerned about employment and tax because in the beginning, we have to support some people.” 

Peace talks have also come at a cost to the South Korean leader. President Moon Jae-In’s approval rating has fallen to a four-month low.

South Koreans say this is because there wasn’t enough consultation before deciding to merge North and South Korean athletes at the Winter Olympics.

The opening ceremony takes place on February 9. North and South Korea have agreed to march under one unified flag.

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South Korea divided and angry over a united Olympic team
South Korea divided and angry over a united Olympic team

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