Lee Keum-seom, 92, had waited over 60 years to see her son, Ri Sang-chol, 71. When she finally set eyes on the old man she had been forced to leave behind in North Korea as a four-year-old child Ms Lee wailed and pulled him to her chest. “Sang-chol!” she cried.
Mr Ri wept and pulled out a family photo showing his father, Ms Lee’s husband, who had already died. “Mother, it’s your husband,” he said. “It’s father.”
The bittersweet moment came as 89 elderly South Koreans were bussed to the North’s Mount Kumgang tourist resort to meet relatives they had not seen since being torn apart by the Korean War of 1950-53.
The carefully selected families have been given the rare opportunity to meet again amid a diplomatic thaw between Seoul and Pyongyang that has brought the countries’ two leaders together in a historic summit.
They are the last surviving remnant of millions of people who were forcibly separated from loved ones without warning after the Korean peninsula was permanently divided between North and South by a so-called demilitarised zone (DMZ).
The emotional reunions will take place over three days but relatives will only be given 11 hours to catch up under close supervision before saying farewell.
Ms Lee had lost sight of her husband and son as the family tried to flee South during the turmoil of the 1950-53 Korean War. The pair had been left behind in the chaos as she and her infant daughter boarded a ferry.
“I never imagined this day would come,” she said ahead of the meeting. “I didn’t even know if he was alive or not.”
In the first precious hours of their reunion, mother and son peppered each other with questions. “How many kids do you have?” Ms Lee eagerly asked Mr Ri.
Around them other tearful relatives also desperately tried to catch up on lost decades, some now in wheelchairs, others unable to even recognise each other.
Baek Sung-gyu, 101, met his daughter-in-law, Kim Myong-sun, 71, for the first time. She handed him a photo of his now deceased son. “It’s an old shabby photo so I brought a copied version,” she said sadly.
“Can I take this home?” Mr Baek asked. “You can,” she replied.
Ahead of the long bus journey North, he had said he had packed clothes, underwear, 30 pairs of shoes, toothbrushes and toothpaste as gifts for Ms Kim and his granddaughter. “I also brought 20 stainless spoons,” he added. “I brought everything because it’s my last time.”
The families are the lucky few selected from more than 57,000 South Korean war survivors who registered for the chance to see long-lost loved ones.
The reunion, the first in three years, could be the only chance for many separated families to meet again face-to-face after being kept apart by decades of animosity between North and South that has been fuelled by Pyongyang’s rapidly advancing nuclear weapons programme.
For some separated relatives, now older than 70, the reunion has already come too late.
Chung Hak-soon, 89, had dreamt her whole adult life of being reunited with her older brother, only to find out that he passed away several years ago.
"I really wished to see even the face of my brother, but the reunion has come too late," she said. Instead, like others on the trip, she will meet family who she has never seen before.
The two Koreas have held just 20 rounds of face-to-face family reunions since the first-ever inter-Korean summit in 2000.
According to local news reports, more than 3,000 applicants for reunion events died in the first half of this year.
When told of a 95-year-old who had burst into tears after not being selected, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he “deeply sympathised with their sorrow.”
Many thousands of Koreans, in the twilight of their lives, have been left heartbroken after failing to make it through the tough selection process.
Some who have been excluded from the arbitrary process have denounced the reunion as a “cruel” political show that only causes more pain for divided families and demanded faster progress to allow more families to be reunited again.
For years, Seoul has been calling for regular meetings between separated families including using video conferences, but the South’s efforts have been blocked by fragile relations with Pyongyang.
“They only let us see each other for a short time and separate us again. It’s like putting a dagger through our hearts,” Lee Myung-sik, 84, told The Telegraph. He will not take part in this week’s event.
Mr Lee escaped as a young man from the border town of Kaesong when his father was shot by soldiers who accused him of being anti-Communist.
The last time he saw his family he had been asked by his father to retrieve money he had loaned to a neighbour.
“I just told him that I would be back soon because it was only down the road. As soon as I walked into the neighbour’s house I heard a gunshot. My neighbour told me that people came to my house to arrest me so I ran away,” he said.
Inside North Korea – forbidden photos
After decades of being unable to even send a letter home, Mr Lee has little time for political gestures.
“It’s just telling us to die in peace after seeing our separated family for a short time. It’s more cruel than murder, they need to let us stay in touch,” he said.
Kim Geum-ok, 86, who also missed out on the reunion, said she had fond memories of a happy childhood before she was suddenly forced to leave her parents, grandparents and cousins behind at the age of 18 when northern forces overran Kaesong in 1950.
“My parents told me to leave Kaesong for a short time and come back when the South Korean soldiers took it back. We thought that the war would be over soon,” she said.
“I was actually quite excited to go to Seoul because my mother’s brother lived there. We all thought everything would return to normal in a few days. That was the last time I saw my parents,” she said.
“My only wish is to go back to Kaesong and see my hometown,” she said.