Rhee Ken arrives to fight in Ukraine despite gov't 'threats'
“Arrived in Ukraine,” the 37-year-old wrote on Instagram along with a photo of a military tent. “Thank you for helping [South Korea] during the [1950-53] Korean War. Now, we will help you.”
In a separate post uploaded minutes before, Rhee criticized Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for refusing to support his decision, stressing he would fight on the frontlines in Ukraine.
Exactly how many people joined him to Ukraine is not known. Rhee, who first broke the news about his trip to Ukraine on Sunday via Instagram, said he personally recruited his team members after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged people from across the world last week to join his military to fight and defend against Russia. The Sunday post showed a photo with the backs of three people.
“At first, we thought about leaving the country [Korea] through official procedures, but we felt strong opposition from the Korean government, and there was some friction,” Rhee wrote Sunday, adding he was “threatened” with facing legal punishment if he ignored Korea’s travel ban to Ukraine.
Despite pushback from Seoul, Rhee said he couldn’t stand by and not help Ukraine with his “skills, knowledge and expertise.”
Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Monday morning it was aware that “Koreans including Rhee Ken” had departed Korea to join the Ukrainian military. Without directly mentioning Rhee, the ministry warned that anyone who ignores the government’s travel ban to Ukraine and illegally enters the country could face criminal charges.
By law, anyone who disobeys a government travel ban can be sentenced to up to a year in prison or face a fine of up to 10 million won ($8,100).
The post, which was written in both Ukrainian and English, read, “The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy is addressing all citizens of the world, friends of Ukraine, peace and democracy. Anyone who wants to join the defense of Ukraine, Europe and the world can come and fight side by side with the Ukrainians against the Russian war criminals.”
The post said that a subdivision, named the International Legion for the Territorial Defense of Ukraine, was being formed specifically for foreigners. Volunteers were told to contact their nearest Ukrainian embassy.
Last Thursday, the Ukrainian Embassy in Seoul told the JoongAng Ilbo that dozens of Koreans had volunteered. On Monday, local media quoted an unidentified embassy official as saying that about 100 people had volunteered.
Ukraine’s foreign minister told CNN Sunday that about 20,000 foreigners have applied, mostly from Europe.
Rhee was once one of the most sought-after TV personalities after his appearance on the YouTube reality series “Fake Men” became a huge hit two years ago. But his popularity didn’t last long, as a journalist-turned-YouTuber revealed Rhee sexually harassed a woman in 2017. Rhee admitted he was found guilty but claimed he was wrongly accused.
BY LEE SUNG-EUN [email@example.com]