21 photos of North Korea that Kim Jong Un wouldn't want you to see
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un keeps a close watch over the media in his country, controlling much of what citizens know of the outside world, and vice versa.
Though Kim has fought to present the Hermit Kingdom to the world as a bastion of military might, nuclear power, and anti-American sentiment, the reality of day-to-day life is grim.
Much of the country lives in poverty, tens of thousands of people are held as political prisoners, and the government tightly controls most aspects of life.
Here's what Kim Jong Un's North Korea really looks like:
Day-to-day life in North Korea can be bleak.
The Hermit Kingdom is one of the most closed-off places in the world, and has experienced increasingly severe food shortages in recent years.
Childhood in North Korea is particularly difficult. Many children in rural areas have to work on farms and much of the country's economic output is driven by forced labor.
Malnutrition affects a shocking amount of children — roughly 28% of kids under five years old have stunted growth.
Poverty and hunger are most acute in North Korea's countryside. An estimated 41% of the population, 10.5 million people, are believed to be undernourished.
One Getty photographer, Xiaolu Chu, traveled through North Korea by train in 2015 and said he noticed scores of people in rural villages begging for money. He shared some of his photos with Business Insider.
"There are nearly no fat people in North Korea," Chu told Business Insider. "Everyone looks very thin."
But even North Koreans in big cities face poor living conditions. Many live in densely packed high-rise apartments, and often experience electricity shortages and elevator breakdowns.
And there's not much access to the internet — people make do with a closed-off computer network system accessible in only a handful of places, like this library in Pyongyang.
One of the most telling aspects of North Korean life is its military. Kim Jong Un loves to show of the country's military might, holding flashy parades and showing off propaganda photos of vast armies of marching soldiers.
But it's more rare to capture photos that show the flip-side of military life — soldiers are often malnourished or ill because of lack of food availability and rigorous training.
One soldier defected last year, and his fellow soldiers shot him five times as he made his escape. Surgeons in South Korea then made a shocking discovery as they rushed to treat his wounds — his bowels were riddled with long, white worms.
The worms, some of which reached 11 inches long, showed just how poor conditions in North Korea are. The country still uses human excrement to fertilize its crops, which can spread parasites.
Defections aren't uncommon, though the number that crossed the South Korean border dropped sharply in 2017 to 1,127, down 21% from the previous year.
South Korea attributes the falling number in part to tighter border security. North Korean soldiers are ruthless when they see people escaping — here are the bullet holes left over from when they tried to shoot down a defector in 2017.
Another disturbing aspect of North Korean life are its notorious prison camps where ordinary citizens are kept trapped in appalling conditions, often over minor infractions that wouldn't even be considered crimes in other countries.
Prisoners in these "re-education" camps are often starved and forced to do hard labor, and some survivors have even reported harsh interrogations and even torture. There aren't photos of the camps, but they're visible on Google Earth.
The international community has long condemned North Korea's human rights record. The US, too, has highlighted victims of especially egregious brutality, like Ji Seong-ho, who attended President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech in January.
Ji left his homeland in 2006, crossing thousands of miles on crutches after enduring years of hunger, grievous injuries after falling on train tracks, and torture at the hands of North Korean police.
"I understand you still keep those crutches as a reminder of how far you have come," Trump said during his State of the Union speech. "Seong-ho's story is a testament to the yearning of every human soul to live in freedom."
That freedom is far from reality for many still in Kim Jong Un's North Korea.
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