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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un orders delegation to Siberia to commemorate their 'national hero'

By The Siberian Times reporter
05 May 2014

Modest villager Yakov Novichenko who changed history is honoured by Pyongyang on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

'Why haven't you written to me once? Please come to visit me in Pyongyang soon'. Picture: 5th Channel Siberia

The Siberian man holds a special place in the history of reclusive North Korea after saving the life of the ruling dynasty's founder Kim Il-sung. Novichenko flung himself on a grenade that was thrown at 'Great Leader' Kim il-Sung in 1946, and his heroism was not forgotten on his 100th birthday. 

The country's ambassador to Russia, Kim Yong Jae, and other officials laid wreathes and bowed their heads to this 'national hero of North Korea'.

The event was marked at the village of Travnoe, some 300 km south-west of Novosibirsk.

Novichenko's act of heroism completely saved Kim il-Sung, enabling his family's dynastic rule of the state, but the Siberian man suffered to serious wounds, though survived. He, in turn, was saved by a book strapped underneath his belt.

'I think this  was hard to believe because people almost never survived after a grenade explosion. So it was hard for many of us to believe that his was a true story,' said his son, Ivan.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un orders delegation to Siberia to commemorate their 'national hero'


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un orders delegation to Siberia to commemorate their 'national hero'


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un orders delegation to Siberia to commemorate their 'national hero'

Novichenko flung himself on a grenade that was thrown at 'Great Leader' Kim il-Sung in 1946. Pictures from the Soviet Union made documentary, as shown by 5th Channel, Siberia

Novichenko lost an arm, and suffered wounds to his eyes, gaining lifelong friendship of the Kim family, and what is said to be the only personality cult devoted to a non-Korean in the country. 

Viktor Zakovryashin, head of Travnoe village's administration, said: 'He was a very modest man, and his real glory was realised and recognised by the people who lived close to him only after his death.

'We had never heard the Korean language here, but now we see people coming from thousands of miles away'.

The North Korean diplomats were surprised at the modest grave of a man they revere, and also the simple house in which he had lived.

Novichenko's daughter evidently struggled to explain to members of the delegation why such an extraordinary man had only a small grave stone. 

'Here in the village it's not good to jump above others' heads; we need to be like others, this is why we made my father's grave stone like this,' she said.

Now a new monument covered in wreaths brought by the North Koreans. 

The ambassador said: 'It was Kim Jong-un who said we should celebrate Yakov's 100th birthday and do it properly. He sent a delegation to Siberia, as well as wreaths and words of support to the family of Novichenko. Thanks to his care we were able to erect a new monument on our hero's grave'.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un orders delegation to Siberia to commemorate their 'national hero'


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un orders delegation to Siberia to commemorate their 'national hero'

North Korea's Ambassador to Russia Kim Yong Jae commemorates 100 years since Yakov Novichenko's birth. Picture: 5th Channel Siberia

The Great Leader and his wife personally honoured this foreigner after the attack.

While recovering in hospital, Kim Il-sung sent Novichenko a cigarette case inscribed: 'To hero Novichenko from the chairman of the People's Committee of the DPRK, Kim Il-sung.'

According to Novichenko, the leader's wife Kim Jong-suk, also a notable heroine in North Korean propaganda, was the first person to visit him in hospital and brought food she had personally prepared.

'Officer Yakov Novichenko belonged to that generation of Soviet people who would willingly sacrifice their lives for the Fatherland, the Party, and the Leader,' Leonid Petrov, a Korean studies expert at the Australian National University, told NK News. 

'The cost of human life in Stalinist Russia was cheaper than sand, but the level of patriotism and sense of duty were extraordinarily high. By saving Kim Il-sung's life in 1946, Novichenko was simply doing his job, as it would have been done by any other Soviet officer in northern Korea at the time.'

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un orders delegation to Siberia to commemorate their 'national hero'


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un orders delegation to Siberia to commemorate their 'national hero'


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un orders delegation to Siberia to commemorate their 'national hero'

A statue of 'Novichenko the Internationalist' was built in 1987. Below - pictures of Yakov and his house in Siberia. Pictures: 5th Channel Siberia

During a visit to the Soviet Union in 1984, Kim Il Sung stopped his train for half a day in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk. 

At the train station, Novichenko greeted Kim Il-sung and the two hugged. The North Korean leader asked Novichenko: 'Why haven't you written to me once?', adding: 'I have been busy with the affairs of state but you could have found time to write. Please come to visit me in Pyongyang soon'. 

The Russian was presented with North Korea's highest award - Hero of the Republic.

North Koreans named their children Yakov in his honour.

A statue of 'Novichenko the Internationalist' was built in 1987 and the film 'Eternal Comrades' was devoted to him in 1985.

Yakov Novichenko died in 1996, two years after the death of Kim Il-sung.

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