‘Crime not to help’: South Korean ex-SEAL has no regrets about Ukraine

SEOUL: A former South Korean Navy SEAL turned YouTuber who risked jail time to leave Seoul and fight for Ukraine says it would have been a “crime” not to use his skills to help.

Ken Rhee, a former special war officer, reported to the Ukrainian embassy in Seoul just as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for global volunteers and fought on the front lines near Kiev in early March.

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

But the famous ex-soldier, who has a YouTube channel with 700,000 followers and has documented much of his Ukraine experience on his popular Instagram account, says he has no regrets.

“You walk on the beach and you see a sign by the water that says ‘don’t swim’, but you see someone drowning. It is a crime not to help. That is how I see it,” he told AFP.

Rhee was born in South Korea but grew up 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 – convinced his son to return to South Korea to enlist.

He served for seven years, attended both US and Korean SEAL training, and did multiple missions in war zones in Somalia and Iraq before leaving to set up a defense consulting firm.

“I have the skills. I have the experience. I was in two different wars and when I went to Ukraine I knew I could help,” he said, adding that he was violating South Korean passport law to leave considered equivalent to a “traffic violation”.