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War-Torn Korean Families Share Prized Memories

Reuters photographer Kim Hong-ji photographed and interviewed ten people who took part in the latest family reunion for those separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. The reunion was held on February 20-25 and a total of 813 family members met in tears and joy after being separated for more than six decades.

Choi Jung-sook, 84, poses at her house in Namyangju on March 11 and seen right holding a document with her younger sister's photo in Namyangju. Choi said that she thought her sister had died in the Korean War, but she was able to see her again at the reunion. "I took photos with a disposable camera, but it broke down or something and the film strips didn't develop. We took a lot of photos but I can't see any of them and that breaks my heart. I don't expect to be able to meet my sister soon. I just want to be able to write her letters and call her," Choi said.

The reunion for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War was held on February 20-25. A total of 813 family members met in tears and joy after being separated for more than six decades.

Kim Chang-nam, 71, at his house in Seoul on March 11 and seen right holding a polaroid picture taken during the reunion with his older sister living in the North. Kim said that during the Korean War, his older sister and older brother went to Pyongyang to find their uncle. He said that he thought his sister was dead, but he was able to see her again thanks to the family reunions. "I never understood what it meant to be a war-torn family member until I heard my sister was alive [and] looking for me. I just didn't know where to start. I feel like I didn't get to even ask how she was doing. I thought my older sister was dead, so I burned pictures and everything else that reminded me of her. If I had known she was alive, I would've given her some baby pictures of us together,” Kim said.

Kim Sun-yeon, 80, at her house in Seoul on March 4 and seen right holding a picture of her older sister who died last year, which was given to her by her nephew from North Korea. Kim said that during the war, when her family left their hometown to seek refuge, her big sister went missing and her mother died. At the recent family reunion she met her big sister’s son. Kim said: "The North Korean People's Army killed a lot of people during the war, so I thought my sister died as well. But last year when I registered for the family reunions, I found out that she was alive. If the reunions had taken place last year in September like they were supposed to, I could've met my sister. But the reunions were postponed to this February and my sister died in the past few months. I have so many things I want to tell her but I can't anymore."

Ma Soo-il, 83, at his house in Dongducheon on March 9 and seen right holding an old picture of his younger sister who died in North Korea three years ago. Ma said he left home when he was 20 to seek refuge and he ended up separated from his family. Ma said: "I didn't know my younger sister was alive until I was selected for the family reunions. I only vaguely thought she'd be alive since she was five years younger than me. But when I was selected for the reunions, I found out that she passed away three years ago. There were families who met each other 10 years ago at the reunions, and how I wish I could've met my sister then.”