When an Interviewee Runs Away

CNN first reported on their imprisonment in early September, and Mr. Hoffman and I made our own trip to Zhytomyr to see them a few days later with help from Oleksandr Turchynov, the head of Ukraine’s security and defense council. That Ukraine has two North Korean spies in jail, Mr. Turchynov told me, showed that his country took a firm stand against missile and nuclear proliferation and would never have allowed secret technology to leak to Pyongyang.

The clearly terrified prisoners, however, had no interest in playing along with Ukraine’s efforts to clear its name. Neither expressed any complaints about their confinement, but, apparently haunted by what awaits them back in North Korea, both resembled hunted animals.

Unlike Mr. Ryu, the first of the jailed pair with whom I tried to speak, Mr. Ri — a second, older spy — did not run away when presented with a journalist. But he declined to say anything of substance about missiles, mumbling in Russian to answer questions, and then quickly demanding that guards take him back to his cell.

His cellmates, in contrast, were delighted to have a visitor to break the tedium of jail life. They talked about how Mr. Ryu was scared for his safety and that of his family back in North Korea, and how he spent hours silently watching cable television, particularly reports about North Korean missiles. Four of the eight men in the cell are convicted murderers, and they all seemed to think that having a North Korean spy in their midst added a touch of glamour to their grim confinement.

Anatoli Gabitov, the deputy warden, also voiced pride in having Mr. Ri among his inmates, praising him as a model prisoner who never complained about the food and, unlike everyone else, never protested that he was innocent and should be released and sent home. “I don’t think he is in a hurry to go home to North Korea,” he said.

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