A US citizen was killed in combat in Ukraine, the second American to die fighting against Russian occupiers, the US State Department said Tuesday.
Stephen Zabielski, 52, was killed May 15 in the village of Dorozhnyanka, Zaporizhzhia Oblast, according to an obituary that was published in the upstate New York newspaper The Recorder.
His death was confirmed by the State Department on Tuesday.
The department declined to provide further details about the circumstances surrounding his death, saying, “Out of respect to the family during this difficult time, we have nothing further.”
But a comrade said that Zabielski, a US war veteran-turned-construction worker, died after stepping on a landmine, Rolling Stone reported.
Tristan Nettles, a US Marine veteran who was with Zabielski the night he died, told the magazine that the 52-year-old and one of his comrades were on a mission to clear mines ahead of a planned Ukrainian offensive when he accidentally touched a trip wire hidden in thick vegetation in foggy conditions.
The explosion killed the married dad-of-five and severely injured another fighter, who survived.
Zabielski, who was from New York but had moved to Florida in recent years, had been part of a multinational combat squad called the Wolverines, which was made up of 13 English-speaking foreign combatants.
Miceál Francis O’Hurley, who identified himself as a fellow foreign fighter in Ukraine, wrote on Facebook that he knew Zabielski from his time serving in the Persian Gulf War with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division.
O’Hurley said that their paths crossed again in Kyiv, when Zabielski had arrived in Ukraine to join the country’s armed forces after Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24.
“We both laughed at how old we were compared to the keen young Ukrainians in uniform,” O’Hurley recalled in a post. “He feared he wouldn’t be accepted given our age – but his experience got him the exception. Despite our age, we both knew we had a duty given our beliefs.
“Steve remained in Ukraine and gave his life for Ukraine’s freedom. He was killed by a landmine. He was the child of Polish-Americans so he knew and understood sacrifice.”
Zabielski is survived by his wife, Fran, five stepchildren, and a grandchild.
“Steve enjoyed life to the fullest,” his obituary stated. “He enjoyed hunting, fishing, & riding his Harley. Steve will be missed by all who knew and loved him.”
The State Department on Tuesday reiterated earlier warnings that US citizens should not travel to Ukraine because of the ongoing war and the potential for the Russian government to target them. It urged any citizens still in Ukraine to leave immediately.
Despite the admonitions not to take up arms in Ukraine, several Americans have volunteered to fight alongside Ukrainian forces, and at least one other U.S. citizen was confirmed dead.
Willy Joseph Cancel Jr, a 22-year-old retired U.S. Marine, was killed in Ukraine in April, according to his mother.
The news of Zabielski’s death comes after Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that Americans Andy Huynh, 27, and Alexander Drueke, 39, both from Alabama, were captured while fighting on the Ukrainian side.
Peskov has declined to rule out the possibility that Huynh and Drueke could face the death penalty, after declaring that they were mercenaries who endangered Russian lives, and who were not eligible for protections under international law.
“They are not members of the Ukrainian army,” Peskov said in a interview with NBC News Monday. “The Geneva Convention cannot be applied to soldiers of fortune.”
With Post wires