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Russian Railway Expands North Korean Connection

Published: October 9, 2013 (Issue # 1781)



  • North Koreans applauding at the opening ceremony of the rail link that will connect the reclusive nation to Russia.
    Photo: Yury Maltsev / SPT

RAJIN, North Korea — Russia has opened an upgraded rail link with North Korea, a first step to re-animate the Trans-Korean Mainline, which could once again unite the two countries, but the question remains as to whether these changes can transform the Communist state that is still living in the past.

Blazing a path for possible interaction by businessmen of other nations, Russian executives had mixed reactions to the experience of investing, building and running a project in North Korea.

 “It was quite difficult to work here because of all these rules and regulations. After a month, the atmosphere seemed almost unbearable,” said Yury Loskutnikov, head of a Russian state company in North Korea that was involved in the construction works in the country.

But Aleksei Shvets, an RZhD-stroi worker who was a Russian expat in North Korea for three years, rotating in and out on shifts while building the railroad, said he did not experience problems with the regime.

“You just have to follow certain rules, that is all,” he said.

A Korean Communist party member, standing near Shvets as he talked, smiled knowingly.

Visiting Russian dignitaries, along with a band of international journalists, who came for the opening ceremony, got firsthand exposure to the unique atmosphere the secretive nation offers.

Once the special “early sparrow” train heading to inspect the newly built rail line connecting Hasan on the Russian border and the North Korean port Rajin rolled across the border, it was met by a polite Korean customs officer.

“Computer? Camera? Telephone?” he inquires, quickly glancing around the train compartment.

Computers and cameras are written down in the customs declaration and allowed to enter the country. Cell phones are another story. We were told that, if found, they might be confiscated by customs. Most left them at Hasan station, the last outpost in Russia before the crossing. The mobile signal would be dead in North Korea anyway, as those brave enough to keep their phones soon find out.

The polite customs officer, speaking passable Russian, wishes us all the best, but bundles up and takes away our passports, to be returned on the way back. And so we enter one of the most closed countries in the world.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Nov. 26


AmCham’s Public Relations Committee will meet this afternoon in their office in the New St. Isaac’s Office Center on Ulitsa Yakubovicha at 4 p.m.


Zoosphere, an international exhibition focusing on the pet industry, opens today at the Lenexpo convention center on Vasilievsky Island. Not only will items such as toys, terrariums and accessories be available for purchase, but animal enthusiasts can also learn about the latest in veterinary medicine and behavioral training thanks to the conferences and presentations that are part of the event.



Thursday, Nov. 27


The Customs and Transportation Committee for AmCham meets this morning at 9 a.m. in their office on Ulitsa Yakubovicha.


Tickets are still available for local KHL team SKA St. Petersburg’s showdown with Siberian club Metallurg Novokuznetsk tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Ice Palace outside the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. Tickets can be purchased on the team’s website, at the arena box office or in their merchandise store on Nevsky Prospekt.


Celebrate one of Russian literature’s most tragic figures during Blok Days, a two-day celebration of the 134th anniversary of the poet’s birthday. The tragic tenor’s work, which led to writer Maxim Gorky to hail him as Russia’s greatest living poet before his death in 1921, will be recited and meetings and discussions about his contributions to the Silver Age of literature in St. Petersburg will be discussed in the confines of his former residence.



Friday, Nov. 28


Join table game aficionados at the British Book Center’s Board Game Evening. Held every Friday at 5 p.m., aficionados and amateurs alike can come take part in a variety of different games that test one’s intellect and cunning.



Saturday, Nov. 29


Cats, dogs, birds, rodents and reptiles are just some of the things that will walk and crawl at Lenexpo convention center this weekend as part of Zooshow, a two-day exhibition featuring not only man’s best friends but a four-legged fashion show, as well as a food fair that will help pet owners find out more about which kibbles are best for their hungry pets.



Sunday, Nov. 30


Remember the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Russo-Finnish war in 1939 during today’s reenactment titled “Winter War: How it Was.” More than 200 people will take part in recreating the opening salvoes of the battle for the north in Kamenka, a small village situated between Vyborg and St. Petersburg, using authentic equipment and vintage vehicles from the era. The faux battle begins at 2 p.m.



Monday, Dec. 1


Serbia filmmaker Emir Kusturica is the featured guest this evening at the Lensovet Palace of Culture the Petrograd Side. Fans of the director will get the chance to watch his movie “Black Cat, White Cat,” as well as ask questions about his award-winning filmography. Tickets for the event, which starts at 7 p.m., start at 2,000 rubles ($42.50).



Tuesday, Dec. 2


Today is the final day of “Takoy Festival,” a three-week program of plays based on the works of Dostoevsky, Remarque and other famed European writers, whose work is transcribed for theatrical performances. Tonight’s festival finale is “Fathers and Sons,” a two-act drama staged by the Novosibirsk Academic Drama Theater based on Turgenev’s classic about familial relations.



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