A US citizen was killed in action in Ukraine last month after becoming one of thousands of foreign fighters to take up arms against Russian forces following the invasion of Moscow, the State Department said.
The death was first announced in an obituary published in The Recorder, an upstate New York newspaper, with the slain American identified as Stephen Zabielski, 52, of Hernando, Florida. He previously lived in Cranesville, New York, the newspaper reported.
According to the obituary, Zabielski was killed May 15 while fighting in the village of Dorozhniank, Ukraine.
The obituary described Zabielski as someone who “enjoyed life to the full”.
“He loved to hunt, fish and ride his Harley. Steve will be missed by all who knew and loved him,” he said, adding that he had worked in the construction industry for over 30 years.
Zabielski is survived by his wife, five stepchildren, seven siblings and other family members.
The State Department confirmed his death in a statement shared with NBC News. He said he had already been in contact with Zabielski’s family and provided all possible consular assistance.
The State Department also repeated warnings advising US citizens against traveling to Ukraine amid the Russian invasion, which was launched on February 24. He said any US citizens still in Ukraine should leave immediately.
Zabielski is the second American citizen killed in action in Ukraine since the start of the war.
Willy Joseph Cancel, a 22-year-old former US Marine, was killed in April after agreeing to go to Ukraine as part of his job with a private military contracting company, his mother, Rebecca Cabrera, told CNN at the time. Cancel had traveled to Ukraine in mid-March and was survived by his wife and 7-month-old child, she said.
Since the start of the war, a number of American citizens have volunteered to fight alongside Ukrainian forces, joining volunteers from around the world.
Earlier this month, two American military veterans, Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27, were captured by Russian forces while fighting in Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told NBC News in an exclusive interview that he could not guarantee the two veterans would not face the death penalty after their capture.
Asked by NBC News Senior International Correspondent Keir Simmons if Drueke and Huynh could ‘face the same fate’ as two British citizens and a Moroccan who were sentenced to death by Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine this month, Peskov said: “It depends on the investigation.”
He said Drueke and Huynh were “involved in illegal activities” in Ukraine, shooting at Russian troops.
“These guys on the battlefield were shooting at our military. They were putting their lives at risk,” he said, adding that “there will be a court, and there will be a court decision.”
However, he said he believed “they should be punished”, as he called Drueke and Huynh “soldiers of fortune”.