4 Korean battle deaths in Ukraine not confirmed
Asked by local reporters whether Russia’s statement was true, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry said the Korean Embassy in Moscow has been ordered to “find out the facts.” Thus far, the embassy has told the ministry it had “no information” on the matter.
Last Friday, Moscow’s Defense Ministry released a list of what it described as foreign mercenaries helping Ukrainian forces in the war against Russia.
The list included 13 Korean nationals, four of whom died, eight of whom had left Ukraine and one who was still fighting.
No other information such as names or ages of the people was revealed.
A diplomatic source who spoke with the JoongAng Ilbo Sunday on the condition of anonymity said that Russia’s figures weren’t congruent with those of the Korean government.
The source said it appeared Moscow was releasing fake data for propaganda purposes and to persuade mercenaries to leave Ukraine by exaggerating deaths.
On the list released Friday, the largest number of foreign mercenaries were said to have come from Europe, especially Poland.
TASS, Russia’s official news agency, quoted Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman, as saying that 1,831 people from Poland have come to Ukraine to fight. Of that figure, 378 have been “eliminated,” he said, while 272 returned home.
The second-largest cohort was said to have come from Romania, followed by Britain. From Romania, 504 people arrived, 102 were killed and 98 remain in Ukraine, the spokesman said. From Britain, 422 arrived, 101 were killed and 95 remain.
“From the Americas, Canada is in the lead: 601 arrived, 162 eliminated, 169 left,” Konashenkov said, according to the English-language TASS report. “The U.S. is in second place: 530 arrived, 214 killed, 227 left.”
The Russian spokesperson said 6,956 mercenaries and “weapons operation specialists” from 64 countries have arrived in Ukraine since the onset of the war, of whom 1,956 have been “destroyed” and 1,779 of whom have yet to leave.
The Korean government has banned all travel to Ukraine since mid-February, shortly before the war with Russia began. As the Ukrainian government asked foreign mercenaries for help, the Korean Foreign Ministry warned criminal changes would face any Korean national who tried to fight in Ukraine.
Some Koreans are known to have gone to Ukraine anyway, including popular YouTuber Ken Rhee, a former special forces officer.
Rhee returned to Korea in late May after three months of fighting in Ukraine, citing injuries.
Prosecutors are now reviewing Rhee’s case for possible violation of the country’s passport law, which could lead to up to a year in prison or a maximum fine of 10 million won ($7,740).
In an exclusive interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily earlier this month, Rhee said his time in Ukraine was worth the risk of going to jail for a year. Rhee went with two other men, but they returned to Korea much earlier. They could also face punishment.
For months, Ukraine has been asking Korea to send anti-aircraft weapons to use against Russia, which Seoul keeps refusing. Korea has so far provided only humanitarian relief and non-lethal military supplies such as bulletproof helmets, blankets and medical supplies.
In early June, Lee Jun-seok, chairman of President Yoon Suk-yeol’s People Power Party, traveled to Ukraine to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In a statement, the PPP said Ukraine’s presidential office asked Korea to participate in reconstruction activities once the war with Russia ends. Lee said he would relay the proposal to Yoon.
BY LEE SUNG-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]