YouTuber Rhee Ken, the former Korean Navy special forces officer who went to Ukraine in March to fight against the Russian invasion, is now under prosecution for passport law violation.
Rhee, who previously served as a lieutenant in the Korean Navy’s Naval Special Warfare Flotilla, was sent to prosecution without detainment on June 15 by the International Crime Investigation Unit of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency.
In Ukraine, Rhee joined the fight as a foreign volunteer soldier of the Homeland Defense Force International Brigade. He was promoted to a “leadership position” in the Ukrainian army last month.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Rhee of violating the passport law as he disregarded a travel ban the Korean government imposed on Ukraine on Feb. 13.
Upon Rhee’s return to South Korea on May 27, he was met by a police investigator at Incheon International Airport who inspected his injuries and imposed measures to ensure Rhee could not leave the country.
“I will unconditionally cooperate with the police investigation,” Rhee said at the time. “I violated the law, but I went to Ukraine to protect people and play a more important role.”
In an interview with Korea JoongAng Daily, Rhee shared that he returned to Korea to get treatment for an injury he sustained after falling in a sinkhole.
“I only came back because I got hurt,” said Rhee. “I have ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] tears in both of my knees. With that kind of injury, I can’t be in any operation that we have been doing. At this time, I have to heal.”
He shared that he was placed under a seven-day quarantine as his COVID-19 vaccination has expired.
“I stepped off the plane and counted about 15 police officers who escorted me to baggage claim,” he shared.
Rhee said he voluntarily faced police questioning on June 10 and admitted to most of the charges.
Amid criticisms from fellow Koreans about his violations, Rhee said he simply “couldn’t sit back and watch.”
“I saw what was going on and I said, ‘OK, this can’t happen. I wish there was something I could do to help,’” he said. “I’m sure there are many ways to help the war effort [while staying in Korea]. But I was a military officer and I wanted to help in the best capacity that I could.”
Rhee, who now faces up to a year in prison or a fine of up to 10 million won (approximately $7,730), is hoping endorsements from Ukrainian authorities will help his case.
“Best case scenario, I think I’ll be charged and fined,” he said. “But I think these letters or a call from a politician in Ukraine — maybe the embassy in Korea will get involved and try to put in a good word for me — any of that would help, I think.”