20-year-old Korean M.I.A. in Poland after failed attempt to enter Ukraine
A 20-year-old Korean marine is missing in action somewhere in Poland as of Wednesday, after he tried and failed to enter Ukraine to fight in the war, the Foreign Ministry announced.
“The soldier was last confirmed to have left a Polish border guard’s office on early morning Wednesday,” the ministry said in its statement the same day. “He had attempted to enter Ukraine but was turned around. It appears unlikely that he will succeed in trying to enter the country again in the future.”
As of last Friday, there were nine Korean nationals identified by the Foreign Ministry who have entered Ukraine since March 2, despite the government's ban on Koreans traveling to Ukraine. Not all of them had entered the country to fight for Ukraine against the Russian invasion, according to the ministry.
The Ukrainian government issued a notice inviting foreign citizens to join Ukraine’s defense forces to fight “Russian war criminals” on Feb. 27, three days after the Russian invasion of the country. Korea had already banned its citizens from going to Ukraine starting Feb. 13.
The 20-year-old man who was serving his mandatory military service in the Navy reportedly left for Warsaw, Poland, on Monday. He was on vacation at the time.
On Tuesday, he texted in a KakaoTalk group chat that he was on the road in Poland, headed towards its southeastern border region, according to an SBS report on Wednesday.
The report raised an allegation that the man may have had motives other than wishing to fight for Ukraine.
“In my military service I experienced all kinds of inequities, and thought that instead of making an extreme choice on my own, I’d rather go to a country in a war and fight and even die for democracy,” the man was reported to have texted in the group chat. “Maybe I could start a new life in Ukraine.”
It was not immediately clear what the soldier meant by the inequities he experienced, but he hinted at being bullied by a supervisor at the Navy during his phone call with Segye Ilbo, a local newspaper, on Tuesday.
The Foreign Ministry said it was not able to reach the man as of Wednesday morning.
“We will be working closely with the Polish and Ukrainian authorities to track down the soldier and ensure that he is able to return safely back to Korea,” the ministry said in its statement later that day.
Any violators of the Korean travel ban to Ukraine can be fined up to 10 million won ($8,300) or sentenced up to a year in prison. The Foreign Ministry can also revoke the violator’s passport.
Among Korean nationals who allegedly defied this order was Rhee Ken, a Korean YouTuber and former Korean Navy special warfare officer, who was also reported to be in Ukraine as of last week.
The Foreign Ministry said it will be taking punitive measures including invalidating the violators’ passports.
“The government has recently confirmed that Korean nationals have entered Ukraine without prior permission prescribed by the government,” said the ministry’s spokesperson Choi Young-sam in a press briefing on March 8. “In this regard, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently in the process of implementing administrative measures on their passports in consultation with the relevant ministries. In addition, we plan to pursue criminal charges related to violations of the passport law in the future.”
BY ESTHER CHUNG [email@example.com]