Seoul (AFP) – A former South Korean Navy SEAL turned YouTuber who risked jail time to go away Seoul and struggle for Ukraine says it will have been a “crime” to not use his expertise to assist.
Ken Rhee, an ex-special warfare officer, signed up on the Ukrainian Embassy in Seoul the second President Volodymyr Zelensky requested for world volunteers and was combating on the entrance strains close to Kyiv by early March.
To get there, he needed to break South Korean legislation — Seoul banned its residents from travelling to Ukraine, and Rhee, who was injured in a fall whereas main a particular operations patrol there, was met on the airport by 15 cops on his return.
However the superstar ex-soldier, who has a YouTube channel with 700,000 followers and documented a lot of his Ukraine expertise on his fashionable Instagram account, says he has no regrets.
“You are strolling down the seashore and also you see an indication by the water saying ‘no swimming’ — however you see somebody drowning. It is a crime to not assist. That is how I see it,” he informed AFP.
Rhee was born in South Korea however raised in the US. He attended the Virginia Army Institute and deliberate to hitch the US Navy SEALS, however his father — a “patriot”, he says — satisfied his son to return to South Korea to enlist.
He served for seven years, present process each US and Korean SEAL coaching and doing a number of stints in struggle zones in Somalia and Iraq earlier than leaving to arrange a defence consultancy.
“I’ve the skillset. I’ve the expertise. I used to be in two completely different wars, and going to Ukraine, I knew I may assist,” he mentioned, including that he seen breaking South Korea’s passport legislation to go away as equal to a “visitors violation”.
Backlash in Korea
However the response in South Korea — the place Rhee shot to fame as a coach within the fashionable YouTube collection “Pretend Males” — was swift and unforgiving.
“It was instantaneous. Folks in Korea, they only criticised me about breaking the legislation,” mentioned Rhee.
His critics declare the 38-year-old’s resolution was criminally irresponsible, and level to his posting of struggle footage on his YouTube and Instagram accounts as proof of showboating.
Rhee says he tries to not let the furore get to him. “I feel it is fairly apparent who the nice guys are and who the dangerous guys are,” he mentioned of Russia and Ukraine.
On his first day on the frontline in Irpin — which he describes as “the Wild West” and “chaos” — he says he witnessed Russian struggle crimes.
“I noticed a civilian get shot. He was driving… they usually shot him by means of the windshield and he died in entrance of us,” he mentioned.
“It was like: there’s my proof. There’s positively struggle crimes occurring. It jogged my memory and my teammates what we had been doing and why we had been there,” he mentioned.
Due to his navy coaching, Rhee was informed to arrange his personal workforce, so he recruited different volunteers with fight expertise and arrange a multi-national particular operations group.
“I used to be consuming Canadian MREs. My gun was from the Czech Republic. I’ve a Javelin missile from the US. I’ve a rocket that is from Germany… however nothing is Korean,” he mentioned.
He tried to take his Korean-made night time imaginative and prescient goggles however was not given authorities export permission. Seoul has offered non-lethal assist to Kyiv, however Rhee mentioned they might do extra.
“Korea has state-of-the-art tools… they’re superb at making weapons,” he mentioned.
‘See you in Taiwan’
Russia mentioned this week that 13 South Koreans had travelled to Ukraine — together with 4 who had been killed. Seoul mentioned it was attempting to confirm the claims.
Though Rhee didn’t know the destiny of all his teammates, he mentioned “a variety of my buddies have died”.
“I do not need my buddies’ sacrifices to be forgotten,” he mentioned, including that he plans to jot down a e-book — and possibly a screenplay — about his workforce’s experiences.
However first, he must cope with the official repercussions of his journey. He’s quietly optimistic South Korea’s new conservative administration will not put him in jail.
Rhee isn’t allowed to go away the nation till his case is resolved, and is receiving therapy for his accidents. However he hopes in the future to struggle alongside his teammates once more, for a trigger they consider in.
The joke as individuals left the frontline was: “See you in Taiwan,” he mentioned, referring darkly to the chance that Beijing will observe Moscow’s lead and invade a neighbouring democracy.
© 2022 AFP