Death in combat puts spotlight on Americans fighting in Ukraine

“So I’m just trying to do everything I can to make sure I can help others not go through what I went through,” he said Saturday during an interview conducted via a messaging platform.

A former US Marine who died last week is believed to be the first US citizen killed while fighting in Ukraine. Willy Joseph Cancel, 22, died on Monday while working for a military company that sent him to Ukraine, his mother, Rebecca Cabrera, told CNN.

An undetermined number of other Americans – many with military backgrounds – are believed to be in the country fighting Russian forces alongside Ukrainians and volunteers from other countries, although US forces are not directly involved in the fight, other than sending military material, humanitarian aid and money.

Russia’s invasion has tasked Ukraine’s embassy in Washington with answering questions from thousands of Americans who want to help in the fight, and Ukraine is using the internet to recruit volunteers for a foreign force, the Ukraine International Defense Legion.

“Anyone who wants to join the defense of security in Europe and the world can come and stand side by side with the Ukrainians against the invaders of the 21st century,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a recruitment speech.

Texan Anja Osmon, who toured Iraq and Afghanistan while serving in the US Army from 2009 to 2015, said she went to Ukraine alone. A doctor, she said she arrived in Ukraine on March 20 and lived in the forest with other members of the International Legion before a new commander sent her away because she didn’t want female fighters.

Osmon, 30, said her mother wants her home before September. But for now, she’s eager to get out of the hotel where she’s staying in Lviv and find another fighting force closer to the action.

“I cannot walk away from injustice,” she said. “No one should be afraid.”

U.S. Navy veteran Eddy Etue said he quit his gig economy job, found a friend in Colorado to take care of his cat, and gave up his home four blocks from the beach in San Diego, California, to help in Ukraine. , where he stayed for about two weeks. He first worked with an aid organization but is now training with the International Legion.

Etue, 36, said he just couldn’t stay at home. “It’s the right thing to do,” said Etue, who funded the journey through an online fundraiser.

Etue’s family history pulled him to Ukraine. He said his grandparents left Hungary with nothing but their four children and clothes after the 1956 revolution, which was suppressed by Soviet forces that killed or injured thousands.

“What is happening here will affect not only the people who are going through this, but also their children and grandchildren,” he said. “I know this from experience.”

Jozefowicz, the former Chicago police officer, says there are thousands of Americans and other volunteers in Ukraine. Several organizations are operating in the country, and Jozefowicz said his group alone has put dozens of volunteers in positions across the country, with about 40 of them being combat work.

“We do not facilitate the entry of a civilian into any direct action role. We just mentor and connect past military volunteers,” he said.

But there is much other work to do. Volunteer groups are bringing medical and food supplies to people in the country of 44 million people, he said, and others are working with refugees and others who have had to flee their homes.

“The closer I got to Ukraine and the longer I spent in Ukraine, the more voids I found that needed to be filled to maximize my group’s volunteer efforts,” he said.

Osmon, who said he was in contact with Jozefowicz’s group, said he provided the troops with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication after days in the forest.

“Most people got air raid fever from hiding in trenches in snow and cold air,” she said. “The bronchitis was devastating us.”

Etue said he felt the country after taking a 24-hour round trip with another volunteer to pick up a vehicle in Odessa. He said he was impressed with the quality of the people serving in the International Legion, as the Ukrainians have done a good job of weeding out the inexperienced and “war tourists” who don’t have much to offer a military unit.

“I think they are doing very well as they are at war with one of the biggest standing armies in the world,” he said.

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