Popular South Korean YouTuber and former Korean Navy Seal Ken Rhee said he has landed in Ukraine to fight as a volunteer soldier — despite his government’s travel ban to the country.
On Instagram, the 37-year-old said in a post early Monday morning that he and his travel mates had initially considered departing for the country “through official procedures.”
“But we felt strong opposition from the Korean government, and there was some friction,” noting that he was “threatened” with “being treated as a criminal” if he ignored Korea’s travel ban to Ukraine.
“But punishment cannot stand still in this situation without helping Ukraine with the skills, knowledge, and expertise we have,” he continued in the post, which was shared alongside a picture of the backs of three men.
“If I return alive, then I will take responsibility for everything and receive the punishment I’m given.”
It is unclear who Rhee has left the country with. He did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday that it was aware that “Koreans including Ken Rhee” have departed the country to join the Ukrainian volunteer army.
“To protect the lives and safety of citizens, as of Feb. 13, the government has issued a Level 4 travel warning throughout Ukraine and has banned Korean citizens from traveling to Ukraine,” it said.
It added that anyone who enters Ukraine without authorization may be subject to a year in prison or a fine of up to 10 million won ($8,150). They would also be required to return their Korean passports and could face challenges applying for a replacement, it said.
But Rhee did not seem too concerned by the prospect.
In another Instagram post addressed to the Foreign Ministry, he wrote: “My team has arrived safely in Ukraine. Rather than waste time seeking to invalidate our passports, think about how you can support.”
Later, Rhee shared several more posts on the platform, including a picture of a military tent, and one of himself in army gear sitting next to a dog.
“During the Korean War, the world helped Korea,” he said. “Now, we will help Ukraine. We cannot just stand by and watch innocent people get hurt and die.”
To date, Rhee’s YouTube channel has amassed more than 774,000 subscribers, and his videos have gained more than 100 million views.
Rhee shot to fame in 2020 after appearing in the YouTube series “Fake Men,” where he trained celebrity contestants to complete a brutal regimen designed for the navy’s elite forces, per the Korea Herald. As a former Navy Seal himself, he has also shared his expertise as a guest on variety shows in South Korea, the outlet said.
In 2020, he was embroiled in controversy when it came to light that he was convicted of sexual assault in 2019. Rhee claims he was wrongfully convicted, per the Korea Herald.
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