My name is Lee Ok Young. I currently live in a senior apartment located at Downtown, Los Angeles. When I was young, I lived with my mother, two older sisters, my grandmother, and my husband. However, by the time the war began, my oldest sister and my grandmother unfortunately passed away. And when the war began, my husband served the South Korean Army which ultimately led to the separation between my family forever. It was when I was 21 years old that I became a refugee. Afraid of a nuclear attack, my family left North Korea to Kang Hwa Do, South Korea, because it was my husband's hometown. However, during the escape, I experienced a nightmare, watching people die left and right. And due to rigorous and endless walking, my feet were bruised up double the original size.
After the war, it was impossible to step one foot across the border. The reason why we planned to go back to North Korea was because we left my mother and sister. They didn't escape because it was the harvest season. And as of right now, I don't know whether they are alive or what kind of life they went through. But other than my mother and my sister, all of my relatives moved down south seeking safety. However, accused as communists, they were unable to live in South Korea.
When the war was finally over, I lived in Seoul with my husband's family. At the beginning, I relied on my husband's family for food and shelter. I was pennyless because North Korean money was not accepted in the South. However, I did not want to rely on my husband's family and began to chop firewood in the forest and gathered up roots that are used for medicine and herbs. I became independent.
I always thought about my family in North Korea, and I never lost hope. And when South Korea established Finding Divided Families Project, it got me excited to believe reunification is near. However, I was unable to find out what happened to them. Slowly but gradually losing hope, I lived diligently in order to survive. Then later I was recommended to immigrate to the United States by a close missionary that I got to know.
Now I am 84, living alone in Los Angeles. The past few years, my back pain worsened. It is hard for me to even walk now. However if I am granted an opportunity to visit North Korea, I would be more than glad to go. Although I lost hope to find my mother who would be over 100 years old now and my sister as well by the huge age gaps, I still want to visit North Korea because it is the place that I was born and raised.