Second U.S. citizen killed while fighting in Ukraine, State Department confirms

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LONDON — A U.S. citizen who volunteered to fight in Ukraine was killed in combat last month, the State Department confirmed.

Stephen Zabielski, 52, died on May 15 in the southeastern village of ​​Dorozhniank, according to an obituary published in a New York state newspaper earlier this month.

A statement released by the State Department confirmed Zabielski's death and said it had been in touch with his family to provide “all possible consular assistance.” Reuters reported that the State Department reiterated President Biden’s warning last Friday that U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine and that any civilians there should leave immediately.

Stephen Zabielski.
Stephen Zabielski. (Facebook)

Zabielski, from Hernando, Fla., had worked in construction for more than 30 years and is survived by his wife and five stepchildren.

He is the second American known to have died while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces. Willy Joseph Cancel, a 22-year-old U.S. Marine veteran and corrections officer from Tennessee, was working with a private military contracting company in Ukraine in April when he died.

The news comes after the Kremlin announced that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to two American volunteers who were detained by Russian forces.

Under the Geneva Conventions, which originated following World War II, prisoners of war cannot be prosecuted for participating in the conflict, are entitled to their financial resources and “shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Monday that the two detainees were mercenaries “involved in illegal activities on the territory of Ukraine.”

The families of Alex Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh confirmed to the New York Times that their loved ones had gone missing while fighting in Ukraine on June 9. Peskov’s statement was the first acknowledgment by the Russian state that the two men had been captured.

“They should be held responsible for those crimes they have committed,” Peskov said. “Those crimes have to be investigated. ... The only thing that is clear is that they have committed crimes. They are not in the Ukrainian army. They are not subject to the Geneva Convention."

A Russian serviceman patrols near the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, amid the ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine, on June 13.
A Russian serviceman patrols near the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, on June 13. (Yuri Kadobnov/AFP via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland made an unannounced visit to Ukraine to meet with Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, a Justice Department official said. The two are set to discuss ways to help Ukraine “identify, apprehend and prosecute those individuals involved in war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine.”

Last week, a third American was reported missing while fighting Russian forces in Ukraine. According to CNN, former U.S. Marine Grady Kurpasi disappeared in recent months after traveling to Ukraine. The last time his wife, Heeson Kim, and friends had heard from the serviceman was between April 23 and 24.

Kurpasi arrived in Ukraine on March 7, just weeks after Russia launched its invasion of the country, in a bid to volunteer alongside the Ukrainian army. According to his friend George Heath, however, he “wasn't really planning on fighting. … He wanted to go and help the Ukrainian people.”

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