‘Crime not to help’: South Korean ex-SEAL has no Ukraine regrets

‘Crime not to help’: South Korean ex-SEAL has no Ukraine regrets
Ken Rhee, right, a former South Korean Navy special warfare officer, poses for a photo with a fan on a street in Seoul. (AFP)
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Updated 27 June 2022

‘Crime not to help’: South Korean ex-SEAL has no Ukraine regrets

‘Crime not to help’: South Korean ex-SEAL has no Ukraine regrets
  • Ken Rhee signed up the moment President Volodymyr Zelensky asked for global volunteers
  • Former South Korean Navy SEAL was born in South Korea but raised in the United States

SEOUL: A former South Korean Navy SEAL turned YouTuber who risked jail time to leave Seoul and fight for Ukraine says it would have been a “crime” not to use his skills to help.
Ken Rhee, an ex-special warfare officer, signed up at the Ukrainian Embassy in Seoul the moment President Volodymyr Zelensky asked for global volunteers and was fighting on the front lines near Kyiv by early March.
To get there, he had to break South Korean law — Seoul banned its citizens from traveling to Ukraine, and Rhee, who was injured in a fall while leading a special operations patrol there, was met at the airport by 15 police officers on his return.
But the celebrity ex-soldier, who has a YouTube channel with 700,000 followers and documented much of his Ukraine experience on his popular Instagram account, says he has no regrets.
“You’re walking down the beach and you see a sign by the water saying ‘no swimming’ — but you see someone drowning. It’s a crime not to help. That’s how I see it,” he said.
Rhee was born in South Korea but raised in the United States. He attended the Virginia Military Institute and planned to join the US Navy SEALS, but his father — a “patriot,” he says — convinced his son to return to South Korea to enlist.
He served for seven years, undergoing both US and Korean SEAL training and doing multiple stints in war zones in Somalia and Iraq before leaving to set up a defense consultancy.
“I have the skillset. I have the experience. I was in two different wars, and going to Ukraine, I knew I could help,” he said, adding that he viewed breaking South Korea’s passport law to leave as equivalent to a “traffic violation.”
But the reaction in South Korea — where Rhee shot to fame as a trainer in the popular YouTube series “Fake Men” — was swift and unforgiving.
“It was instant. People in Korea, they just criticized me about breaking the law,” said Rhee.
His critics claim the 38-year-old’s decision was criminally irresponsible, and point to his posting of war footage on his YouTube and Instagram accounts as evidence of showboating.
Rhee says he tries not to let the furor get to him. “I think it’s pretty obvious who the good guys are and who the bad guys are,” he said of Russia and Ukraine.
On his first day on the frontline in Irpin — which he describes as “the Wild West” and “chaos” — he says he witnessed Russian war crimes.
“I saw a civilian get shot. He was driving... and they shot him through the windshield and he died in front of us,” he said.
“It was like: there’s my proof. There’s definitely war crimes going on. It reminded me and my teammates what we were doing and why we were there,” he said.
Because of his military training, Rhee was told to set up his own team, so he recruited other volunteers with combat experience and set up a multi-national special operations group.
“I was eating Canadian MREs. My gun was from the Czech Republic. I have a Javelin missile from the United States. I have a rocket that’s from Germany... but nothing is Korean,” he said.
He tried to take his Korean-made night vision goggles but was not given government export permission. Seoul has provided non-lethal aid to Kyiv, but Rhee said they could do more.
“Korea has state-of-the-art equipment... they’re very good at making weapons,” he said.
Russia said earlier this month that 13 South Koreans had traveled to Ukraine — including four who were killed. Seoul said it was trying to verify the claims.
Although Rhee did not know the fate of all his teammates, he said “a lot of my friends have died.”
“I don’t want my friends’ sacrifices to be forgotten,” he said, adding that he plans to write a book — and maybe a screenplay — about his team’s experiences.
But first, he needs to deal with the official repercussions of his trip. He is quietly optimistic South Korea’s new conservative administration won’t put him in jail.
Rhee is not allowed to leave the country until his case is resolved, and is receiving treatment for his injuries. But he hopes one day to fight alongside his teammates again, for a cause they believe in.
The joke as people left the frontline was: “See you in Taiwan,” he said, referring darkly to the risk that Beijing will follow Moscow’s lead and invade a neighboring democracy.


UN’s Guterres expresses ‘clear commitment’ to North Korea denuclearization

UN’s Guterres expresses ‘clear commitment’ to North Korea denuclearization
Updated 6 sec ago

UN’s Guterres expresses ‘clear commitment’ to North Korea denuclearization

UN’s Guterres expresses ‘clear commitment’ to North Korea denuclearization
  • UN leader: The goal is a ‘fundamental objective to bring peace, security and stability to the whole region’
SEOUL: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday expressed his “clear commitment” to North Korea’s denuclearization during his visit to Seoul, weeks after Pyongyang said it was “ready to mobilize” its nuclear deterrent.
Guterres arrived in Seoul on Thursday following a trip to Japan, where he gave a speech to mark the 77th anniversary of the world’s first nuclear bomb attack in Hiroshima. He has also been to Mongolia.
“I would like to reaffirm our clear commitment to the full, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, of the DPRK,” he said at his meeting with South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol, using North Korea’s official name.
The goal is a “fundamental objective to bring peace, security and stability to the whole region,” Guterres told Yoon, according to footage broadcast by local media.
Guterres’s comments come as Washington and Seoul officials have repeatedly warned that the North is preparing to carry out what would be its seventh nuclear test.
On Thursday, Pyongyang blamed Seoul for a COVID-19 outbreak in the North and threatened to “wipe out” Seoul’s authorities.
Pyongyang has conducted a record-breaking blitz of weapons tests so far this year, including firing an intercontinental ballistic missile at full range for the first time since 2017.
Last month, the North’s leader Kim Jong Un said his country was “ready to mobilize” its nuclear deterrent in any future military conflict with the United States and Seoul.
Guterres delivered a stark warning against the horrors of atomic weapons in New York at a key nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty conference last week, which he reiterated in Japan on Monday.
“We are witnessing a radicalization in the geopolitical situation that makes the risk of a nuclear war again something we cannot completely forget,” he said at a press conference in Tokyo.

Fake jobs agency listing Mideast posts shut down by Philippine government

Fake jobs agency listing Mideast posts shut down by Philippine government
Updated 20 min 24 sec ago

Fake jobs agency listing Mideast posts shut down by Philippine government

Fake jobs agency listing Mideast posts shut down by Philippine government
  • Kharem’s International advertised bogus positions
  • Unwitting victims duped into advance, placement fees

DUBAI: The Philippine migrant workers office on Friday said it shut down an illegal recruitment agency in Manila after discovering it had been listing non-existent jobs in the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries.

Kharem’s International, an unregistered and unlicensed company, had listed jobs for domestic workers, beauticians and on-call cleaners in the region, Secretary of the Department of Migrant Workers Susan V. Ople said in a statement.

However, the agency’s bogus job offerings were only discovered after unwitting victims complained of being charged placement fees and other ‘advance’ payments.

Legitimate overseas job offers, as well as the registered and authorized recruitment agencies that handle them, can be verified with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, or POEA, a government agency responsible for the management of work programs in the country.

Emmanuel S. Geslani, an expert on the Philippine government’s overseas employment program, said the practice of unscrupulous recruitment agencies sending Filipino workers abroad to take up non-existent jobs has been prevalent, and there must be tighter enforcement measures to close these firms.

“Of course it also has to do with the breakdown of the departure process at airports,” Geslani told Arab News, as recruitment agencies work in cahoots with some dishonest Philippine immigration officials so victims could leave the country.

“A worker without a properly processed documentation, such as an OEC (Overseas Employment Certificate), cannot just depart from an airport. Even those leaving for Dubai, for example, on the pretext of being tourists can be closely checked as immigration officers have opportunities to interview them, and even authority to hold their departure,” Geslani said.

Meanwhile, six alleged illegal recruiters were also apprehended earlier after offering non-existent overseas jobs to 235 victims.

One suspect, Vegloure Ragotero, was accosted and apprehended by 109 of her victims after they chanced upon her while they were on their way to file a complaint at the POEA main office.

Charges of large-scale illegal recruitment, a non-bailable offense under Republic Act No. 10022, otherwise known as the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, are being prepared against Ragotero and other suspects.


Two more ships depart from Ukraine – Turkey’s defense ministry

Two more ships depart from Ukraine – Turkey’s defense ministry
Updated 12 August 2022

Two more ships depart from Ukraine – Turkey’s defense ministry

Two more ships depart from Ukraine – Turkey’s defense ministry
  • Belize-flagged Sormovsky left Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port, carrying 3,050 tons of wheat
  • Marshall Island-flagged Star Laura departed from Pivdennyi, carrying 60,000 tons of corn

ISTANBUL: Two more ships left from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Friday, Turkey’s defense ministry said, bringing the total number of ships to depart the country under a UN-brokered deal to 14 and marking the first export of wheat.
Belize-flagged Sormovsky left Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port, carrying 3,050 tons of wheat to Turkey’s northwestern Tekirdag province, it said. Also, Marshall Island-flagged Star Laura departed from Pivdennyi and headed to Iran, carrying 60,000 tons of corn.


With gas pumps all but dry, Sri Lankans pedal through crisis

With gas pumps all but dry, Sri Lankans pedal through crisis
Updated 12 August 2022

With gas pumps all but dry, Sri Lankans pedal through crisis

With gas pumps all but dry, Sri Lankans pedal through crisis
  • Deep in economic disaster, country struggles with acute fuel shortages
  • As demand for two-wheelers soars, so does the bicycle black market

COLOMBO: Working in Colombo, Hashan Gunasekera has not gone home to see his family in Kandy since mid-April, as he has already given up on searching for gasoline to fuel his car.

A video production manager, Gunasekera, 32, used to drive three hours every week to spend Saturdays and Sundays at home, but for the past few months, he has not been able to drive, as his country — in the middle of the worst economic turmoil in memory — has run out of petrol.

Like many other middle-class Sri Lankans in the capital, he was forced to switch to a bicycle for his daily commutes.

“I have given up going home now,” Gunasekera told Arab News. “There is no use in even trying.”

The most basic bicycle he bought to reach his Colombo office cost him over 37,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($100) in June, but it had no gears and soon Gunasekera had to buy a new, slightly better one, which sold for 88,000 rupees — some three times more than before the crisis.

“A bike like this would have cost about 25,000 to 30,000 rupees last year,” he said.

Despite the soaring prices, the number of bikes on Colombo’s streets has increased manifold.

“The current market demand has greatly increased,” Sangeeth Suriyage, who runs Suriyage Bike Shop in Colombo, told Arab News, estimating that it may be even five times higher than last year.

“The market is able to meet a fair percentage of that demand," he said, adding that the supply-demand imbalance has fueled informal sales, with bicycles sold for at least double the current market price. “There is a thriving black market operating through people that buy and resell at exorbitant costs.”

Desperate Colombo residents in need of an accessible mode of transport are still willing to fork out the extra expense.

Marini, an English teacher based in Colombo, said she spent 188,000 rupees for a bike for her nephew to be able to go to school. 

“This was really expensive,” she said. “But given the current situation I considered it an investment.”

But the price is not the only problem. Bicycles are now joining the list of items the country is running out of.

At a shop in Borella, the largest suburb in Colombo, bikes sold like hot cakes last month, but now demand has outstripped supply, with import restrictions slapped on almost all commodities as the country’s foreign exchange reserves have dried.

“We are running out of bicycles,” one of the Borella shop’s sellers told Arab News. “After fuel was completely stopped for the past month and a half or so, crowds are coming to (buy) bicycles for adults. Before this, people came to buy bicycles for children, mostly.”

While the island nation of 22 million is seeking a $3 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund to put its economy and public finances back on track, it is unlikely that the situation will get back to normal soon.

Some, like Hakiem Haniff, a 28-year-old marketeer who lives on the outskirts of Colombo, are trying to see positive aspects of having no choice but to take more exercise when transport options are limited.

But if it were to be long-term, he would like to see cycling infrastructure introduced in the city, which authorities promised earlier this year would be rolled out in Sri Lanka’s capital.

“If they want to take this thing seriously, they really need to invest in infrastructure so that more people will start cycling,” he said. “There’re no cycling lanes and it can be pretty crazy.”


UN chief urges demilitarized zone around Ukraine nuclear power plant

UN chief urges demilitarized zone around Ukraine nuclear power plant
Updated 11 August 2022

UN chief urges demilitarized zone around Ukraine nuclear power plant

UN chief urges demilitarized zone around Ukraine nuclear power plant
  • IAEA chief Rafael Grossi was due to brief the 15-member UN Security Council on the situation
  • Ukraine’s nuclear agency said Russian shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has damaged “several radiation sensors“

LONDON: UN chief Antonio Guterres on Thursday called for military activity around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power complex to end as Moscow and Kyiv blamed each other for a renewed shelling ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on the situation.
Russia seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in March after invading Ukraine on Feb. 24.
The plant is still run by its Ukrainian technicians and Ukraine’s Energoatom said the area was struck five times on Thursday, including near the site where radioactive materials are stored.
Guterres urged the withdrawal of military personnel and equipment and for no more forces or equipment to be deployed. He called for Russia and Ukraine not to target the facilities or surrounding area.
“The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, urgent agreement is needed at a technical level on a safe perimeter of demilitarization to ensure the safety of the area,” Guterres said in a statement.
The United States supports calls for a demilitarized zone around Zaporizhzhia, a State Department spokesperson said on Thursday.
Meanwhile, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi was due to brief the 15-member UN Security Council on the situation later Thursday, at the request of Russia.
Russia’s Ambassador to International Organizations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, on Tuesday said that the IAEA was ready to visit Zaporizhzhia in June with Russia’s support.
“Unfortunately, at the very last moment the Department of Security of the UN Secretariat blocked the mission. We hope that the UN Secretary General will not allow this to happen again,” Ulyanov posted on Twitter.
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in response that the United Nations was committed to doing everything possible to get the IAEA technicians to Zaporizhzhia.
On Thursday, Ukraine’s nuclear agency said Russian shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has damaged “several radiation sensors.”
Energoatom said the new strikes were close to one of the Russian-controlled Ukrainian plant’s six reactors and there was “extensive smoke,” adding that “several radiation sensors are damaged.”
Moreover, Ukraine aims to evacuate two thirds of residents from areas it controls in the eastern battleground region of Donetsk before winter, partly out of concern people won’t be able to stay warm amid war-damaged infrastructure, the deputy prime minister said on Thursday.
The government plans to evacuate some 220,000 people out of around 350,000, including 52,000 children, Iryna Vereshchuk told a news conference.
Late last month Ukraine announced the mandatory evacuation of people from Donetsk region, which has been the scene of fierce fighting with Russia, to save civilian lives.
Although the authorities describe the evacuation as “mandatory,” residents can opt out by filling in a form declaring their intention to stay.
Since Aug. 1, 3,904 people had been evacuated, Vereshchuk said.
She said thousands should leave before winter comes because the fighting has destroyed power and heating infrastructure.
She added that evacuation might have to expand to other war-hit areas, such as Kherson, Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia regions.
Donetsk is part of the eastern region of Donbas, which Russia has said it aims to control completely.
In Copenhagen, a Ukraine donors’ conference of 26 countries pledged 1.5 billion euros (over $1.5 billion) more aid for training and equipment for Kyiv’s forces, the Danish defense minister said Thursday.
“All the participating nations here pledged for support, for training activities, demining activities, some with concrete donations,” Morten Bodskov said.
The exact amount promised by each of the 26 countries including France, Germany and the United States, was not published but Denmark announced a supplementary donation of $114 million for Ukraine, bringing its total support to Kyiv to $417 million.
Britain, which organized the conference with Denmark and Ukraine, promised nearly $300 million.
“Our partners know that we need funding and they articulated readiness to support us financially,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said as he welcomed the money.
The donors will meet again next month.
On the other hand, Estonia from next week will prevent most Russians from entering the country with visas issued by Estonian authorities, cutting off a popular route into Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone.
While exceptions apply, the Foreign Ministry for Estonia, a European Union member, said it will also cease to issue visas to Russians for work, study and business in the country.
The EU last month agreed a seventh round of sanctions against Russia since its invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday called on the West to impose a blanket travel ban on Russians in reaction to the ongoing war, an idea that angered Moscow.
The European Commission has questioned the feasibility of a blanket ban, saying certain categories such as family members, journalists and dissidents should always be granted visas.
(With AFP, AP and Reuters)