Ken Rhee, a former officer in the Navy SEALs, a South Korean naval special operations force, visited the Ukrainian Embassy in Seoul to go to the front in early March, when the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky called on volunteers from all over the world to come and lend a hand to his fighters.

Seoul having banned its nationals from traveling to Ukraine, it had to break the law to join the fights. Wounded while leading a patrol, he was repatriated to South Korea, where he was picked up by fifteen police officers on his arrival.

The ex-combatant, who hosts a YouTube channel followed by 700,000 subscribers and a very popular Instagram account where he shared his experience in Ukraine, says he has no regrets.

“It’s as if as you walk on the beach, you see a no swimming sign and you see a bather drowning. It’s a crime not to help him. That’s how I see the things,” he told AFP.

Mr. Rhee, 38, was born in South Korea but grew up in the United States, where he trained to join the Navy SEALs.

His father, however, convinced him to enlist in South Korea.

He served with that army for seven years, undergoing American and Korean SEAL training and serving missions in Somalia and Iraq, before leaving to start a defense consulting company.

“I have the skills. I have the experience. I’ve been in two different wars and by going to Ukraine I knew I could help,” he said.

– Severe criticism –

But in South Korea, where Mr. Rhee is known for taking part in the popular YouTube series “Fake Men”, his commitment has been viewed with suspicion.

“It was instantaneous. In Korea, people just blamed me for breaking the law.”

His critics call his decision irresponsible, and believe he posted images of himself on the pitch on YouTube and Instagram to show off.

The ex-officer does not intend to be defeated. “I think it’s pretty easy to figure out who the good guys are and who the bad guys are,” he says of Russia and Ukraine.

He says he witnessed war crimes committed by Russians on his first day on the front line in Irpin.

“I saw a civilian driving…and they shot him, he died in front of us,” he said.

“It reminded me and my teammates of what we were doing and why we were there.”

Due to his military background, Mr. Rhee has assembled his own multinational special operations team by recruiting volunteers.

“I ate Canadian rations. My weapon was Czech. I had an American missile launcher and a German rocket… but nothing from Korea,” he said.

He tried to take his night vision goggles with him, but he couldn’t because he didn’t have permission from the government. Seoul has provided non-lethal aid to kyiv and Mr. Ree blames it for not doing more.

“Korea has advanced equipment…they are very good at making weapons,” he said.

– “See you in Taiwan” –

Moscow said this week that 13 South Koreans had traveled to Ukraine and four of them had been killed.

Seoul said it is trying to verify these claims. Although Mr Rhee does not know the fate of all of his teammates, he claims that “a lot of [his] friends are dead”.

“I don’t want their sacrifices to be forgotten.” It is for this reason in particular that he plans to write a book – and perhaps a screenplay on what he lived with his comrades.

But first, he must face the legal consequences of his departure. He is hopeful of not ending up in prison.

From now on, the ex-soldier is subject to a ban on leaving his country and he is being treated for his injuries.

But he hopes to one day be able to fight again.

The joke when people left the frontline was: “Surrender to Taiwan,” he said, referring to the risk that Beijing would follow Moscow’s lead and end up retaking the island by force.