March 08, 2022 10:46
A former Navy special warfare officer who attracted a following as a YouTuber sharing combat experience has flown to Ukraine to help the fight against the Russian invasion.
Rhee Keun (38) told viewers that he wants to share his military knowledge to help Ukraine, but the gesture violates Korean laws.
"We arrived safely in Ukraine. We will engage in combat on the frontlines," Rhee claimed on Instagram on Monday under a photo of what appears to be a battlefield tent.
On Sunday, Rhee informed his viewers that he had left Korea by saying, "We began our mission to serve as volunteer soldiers after the Ukrainian president asked the world for help."
Last month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on people around the world to help protect his country. The plea prompted around 20,000 soldiers of fortune to make their way to Ukraine.
According to the Embassy of Ukraine here, around 100 Koreans have inquired about volunteering to fight, but the actual number of people who went to there is a secret. The Russian Defense Ministry has warned it is not recognizing any foreign mercenaries as combatants under the Geneva Convention and will prosecute them as criminals.
Rhee was born in Korea but grew up in the U.S. and graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 2006 before becoming a commissioned officer in the Korean Navy. He was discharged in 2014 after serving as a special warfare officer and rose to some fame by appearing in a YouTube program as a drill sergeant in 2020.
His YouTube channel has more than 770,000 followers.
It is illegal for a Korean national to take part in a war in another country without government authorization, and offenders face at least a year behind bars. The Foreign Ministry has also issued a travel ban for Ukraine on pain of a year in prison or a maximum W10 million fine and confiscation of passport (US$1=W1,230).
But Rhee said, "I could not sit still without using my knowhow and expertise to help Ukraine just because I was afraid of prosecution. If I return alive, I will take responsibility for my actions and face punishment."
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