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SEOUL: Former member of the South Korean special forces, Ken Rhee had to break his country’s law to go fight in Ukraine, but for him it would have been a “crime” not to put his skills at the service of a country at war .

Ken Rhee, a former officer in the Navy SEALs, a South Korean naval special operations force, visited the Ukrainian Embassy in Seoul to go to the front in early March, just as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for volunteers from around the world. come and lend a hand to your fighters.

Seoul banned its citizens from traveling to Ukraine, and had to break the law to join the fights. Wounded while leading a patrol, he was repatriated to South Korea, where he was picked up by fifteen police officers on his arrival.

The former fighter, who hosts a YouTube channel followed by 700,000 subscribers and a very popular Instagram account where he shared his experience in Ukraine, says he has no regrets.

“It’s like you’re walking on the beach and you see a ‘no swimming’ sign and a bather drowning. It’s a crime not to help him. That’s the way I see it,” he told AFP.

Mr. Rhee, 38, was born in South Korea but grew up in the United States, where he trained to join the Navy SEALs. His father, however, convinced him to enlist in South Korea.

He served with that army for seven years, undergoing US and Korean SEAL training and serving missions in Somalia and Iraq, before leaving to start a defense consulting firm.

“I have the skills. I have the experience. I’ve been to two different wars and, going to Ukraine, I knew I could help,” he said.

severe criticism

But in South Korea, where Rhee is known for appearing in the popular YouTube series “Fake Men,” his commitment has been viewed with suspicion.

“It was instantaneous. In Korea, people just blamed me for breaking the law.”

His detractors call his decision irresponsible and believe he posted images of himself on YouTube and Instagram to show off.

The former officer does not intend to be defeated. “I think it’s very easy to find out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys,” he says of Russia and Ukraine.

He says he witnessed Russian war crimes on his first day on the front lines in Irpin.

“I saw a civilian driving… and they shot him, he died in front of us,” he said.

“It reminded me and my teammates what we were doing and why we were there.”

Due to his military background, Mr. Rhee assembled his own multinational special operations team by recruiting volunteers.

“I ate Canadian rations. My weapon was Czech. I had an American missile launcher and a German rocket … but nothing from Korea,” he said.

He tried to take his night vision goggles with him but couldn’t because he didn’t have government permission. Seoul provided non-lethal aid to Kyiv and blames Ree for not doing more.

“Korea has advanced equipment… they are very good at making weapons,” he said.

“See you in Taiwan”

Moscow said this week that 13 South Koreans had traveled to Ukraine and four of them had been killed.

Seoul said it is trying to verify these claims. Although Mr. Rhee doesn’t know the fate of all his teammates, he claims that “many [ses] friends are dead”.

“I don’t want your sacrifices to be forgotten.” That is why in particular he intends to write a book—and perhaps a screenplay—about what he experienced with his companions.

But first, he must face the legal consequences of his departure. He’s hopeful that he won’t end up in prison.

As of now, the former soldier is subject to a ban on leaving his country and is being treated for his injuries.

But he hopes to one day be able to fight again.

The joke when people left the front lines was: “Surrender to Taiwan,” he said, referring to the risk that Beijing could follow Moscow’s example and end up taking the island by force.

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