A Washington state man was killed in Ukraine after sneaking out of his father’s home to fight against Vladimir Putin’s forces, his family said.
Skyler James Gregg, 23, died in the last week of October while serving with the International Legion under the Ukrainian armed forces, his father and a former commander told the Daily Beast this week.1
Though the commander, who did not wish to be named, could not confirm where Gregg was killed, he did tell the outlet that he died “a hero” and was “a very brave, big-hearted man.”
Another anonymous source in the Ukrainian army said Gregg was killed by artillery fire in the northeastern part of the country.
Gregg first made headlines in June, when he was interviewed by the Daily Beast from his hospital bed in Poltava after being wounded by a Russian explosive in the Kharkiv region.
Recovering for 14 shrapnel injuries to his foot, arm and shoulder, Gregg described how he snuck out of his father’s home early one April morning and met up with his mother, who drove him to the airport.
“He must have sneaked out when I was not around,” Gregg’s father, Steve, told the Daily Beast at the time. “I didn’t want him to go without any military experience, without a support system and even without knowing the language. I did not want to encourage him.”
Gregg, who had previously studied in Poland and had a friend in Ukraine, told the outlet that he had no military experience, which is a requirement for joining the International Legion. He posited that he was able to join up easily because he arrived when the war was still fresh and disorganized.
“I didn’t want to seem more experienced than I really was, so I just told them that I had the bare minimum experience,” he explained. “It was quite disorganized, but that was how it was back then. Nobody knew how the war would unfold, and there was a need for volunteers.”
Despite his injuries, in June Gregg was cleared to go back to the front lines. And while he understood why some people might think he had made a rash decision, he did not regret signing up.
“I was just so angry … I wanted to stop what was happening, not just make what is happening less miserable,” he said.
Speaking to the Daily Beast in the wake of Gregg’s death, his father said he was still grappling with his son’s choice.
“I will be honest and say that in the first couple of days, I was filled with frantic, frantic pain,” Steve admitted to the outlet. A self-described pacifist, the elder Gregg said he warned his son about the dangers of volunteering.
“He did not have my permission to go, but I have a ton of respect for him,” he said.
Recalling Gregg’s affection for the novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway, Steve said he might pick the book up again in his son’s memory.
“I haven’t read the book in decades, but it might be time to look at it again to see what it means ‘for whom the bell tolls,’” he mused. “You know, Skyler always wanted to give his all, and if he died, then he wanted it to set an example and to live his life fully.
“In action and values, he relished human connections, and it is tough for me to criticize his drive to help people. I cannot criticize that.”