South Korean ex-SEAL has no Ukraine regrets

Former South Korean Navy SEAL turned YouTuber who threatened prison time to leave Seoul and fight for Ukraine who says it would be a “crime” not to use his skills to help.

Ken Rhee, a former war specials officer, signed at the Ukrainian Embassy in Seoul the moment President Volodymyr Zelensky called for global volunteers and was fighting on the front lines near Kyiv in early March.

To get there, he had to break South Korean law – Seoul banned its citizens from traveling to Ukraine, and Rhee was met by 15 police officers, who were injured in a fall while in command of a special operations patrol there. , at the airport when he returned. .

But the veteran veteran, who owns a YouTube channel with 700,000 followers and documented many of his experiences in Ukraine on his popular Instagram account, says he has no regrets.

“You are walking down the beach and you see a sign by the water saying ‘no swimming’ – but you see someone drowning. It is a crime not to help. That’s how I see it, “he told AFP.

Rhee was born in South Korea but raised in the United States. He attended the Virginia Military Institute and planned to join the US Navy SEALS, but his father – a “patriot”, he says – persuaded his son to return to South Korea to enlist.

He served for seven years, undergoing SEAL training in both the US and Korea and doing several stints in war zones in Somalia and Iraq before leaving to set up defense consultancy.

“I have the skill set. I have the experience. I was in two different wars, and going to Ukraine, I knew I could help, “he said, adding that he believed that the violation of South Korean passport law was equivalent to a” traffic violation “. .

Gaming in Korea –

But the response in South Korea – where Rhee rose to fame as a trainer in the popular YouTube series “Fake Men” – was swift and relentless.

“It simply came to our notice then. People in Korea have criticized me for breaking the law, ”said Rhee.

His critics claim the 38-year-old’s decision was criminally irresponsible, and focus on the piece of war he posted on his YouTube and Instagram accounts as evidence of demonstrations.

Rhee says he tries not to let the unrest get the better of him. “I think it’s pretty clear who the good people are and who the bad ones are,” he said of Russia and Ukraine.

On his first day on the front line in Irpin – which he calls “the Wild West” and “chaos” – he says he saw Russian war crimes.

“I saw a civilian being shot. He was driving… and they shot him through the windshield and he died in front of us, ”he said.

“It simply came to our notice then. There are certainly war crimes going on. It reminded me and my partners of what we were doing and why we were there, ”he said.

Because of his military training, Rhee was told to set up his own team, so he recruited other volunteers with combat experience and set up a multinational special operations group.

“I was eating Canadian MREs. My gun was from the Czech Republic. I have a Javelin missile from the United States. I have a rocket from Germany… but nothing from Korea, ”he said.

He tried to take off his Korean-made night vision goggles but the government was not given an export permit. Seoul provided non-lethal assistance to Kyiv, but Rhee said they could do more.

Korea they have excellent equipment… they are very good at making weapons, ”he said.

‘I’ll see you in Taiwan’

Russia said earlier this month that 13 South Koreans had traveled to Ukraine – including four killed. Seoul said it wanted to verify the claims.

Although Rhee did not know the fate of all his teammates, he said “many of my friends have died”.

“I do not want my friends’ sacrifices to be forgotten,” he said, adding that he intends to write a book – and perhaps a film script – about his team’s experience.

But first, he has to deal with the official consequences of his trip. He is quietly optimistic that he will not be imprisoned by the new conservative administration of South Korea.

Rhee is not allowed to leave the country until her case is resolved, and she is being treated for her injuries. But he hopes to one day fight with his partners again, for a reason they believe in.

The joke as people left the front line was: “You’ll see you in Taiwan,” he said, referring boldly to the danger that Beijing would continue to lead Moscow’s and invade democracy in the neighborhood.

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