US citizen Stephen Zabielski, 52, has reportedly died in Ukraine, as confirmed by the State Department. According to an obituary posted by his family, Zabielski, a US Army veteran, had died on May 15.

“We can confirm the death of US citizen Stephen Zabielski in Ukraine,” the State Department said. “We have been in touch with the family and have provided all possible consular assistance. Out of respect to the family during this difficult time, we have nothing further,” they added.

Zabielski is believed to be the second American citizen and US veteran to have died in Ukraine following the death of Willy Joseph Cancel, a 22-year-old Marine. Cancel went to Ukraine as a private military contracting company member and died on March 12 or 13 while fighting Russian forces with the Ukrainian International Legion.

Zabielski, an army veteran aimed to help the Ukrainian Armed Forces fend off the Russian invasion, now in its fourth month. He was from Amsterdam/Cranesville, New York originally, and moved to Hernando, Florida,  He worked in construction for over 30 years. He reportedly served in the Persian Gulf War with the 101st Airborne.

Stephen Zabielski with his squad in Ukraine (Tristan Nettles via New York Post). Source: https://nypost.com/2022/06/21/american-stephen-zabielski-killed-fighting-in-ukraine/
Stephen Zabielski(standing row, third from the left) with his squad in Ukraine (Tristan Nettles via New York Post)

Zabielski’s Final Moments Alive

According to reports, Zabielski had spent his final days in a fierce gunfight with the Russian forces somewhere near Dorozhnyanka, Ukraine, as revealed by his obituary published in the New York newspaper “The Recorder.”

“Steve enjoyed life to the fullest. He enjoyed hunting, fishing, & riding his Harley. Steve will be missed by all who knew and loved him,” the obituary stated, revealing that he has a wife and five stepchildren.

Zabielski was also part of a western volunteer squad known as the “Wolverines.” A member of this squad, Tristan Nettles, also a Marine Corps veteran, revealed to Rolling Stone that the team was composed of fighters from Poland, the UK, Canada, and the US.

Their squad was on a mission to clear mines in Dorozhnyanka in the Zaporizhia Oblast. so that troops and vehicles could pass through as they were planning an assault on Russian forces the next day. However,  nighttime conditions were foggy reducing visibility. To secure the area, Zabielski and “Gary”, another US volunteer fighter in Ukraine, were detailed to go forward and man an observation post. This OP anchored the unit’s perimeter and would give advanced warning of a Russian attack, but it was in an area not yet clear of mines.

The unit finally finished its job of clearing mines late that night. However, the assault was postponed to the following day due to thick fog. Both Zabielski and Gary were sleep-deprived, and we were told to stay at the observation post for another day. Perhaps concerned the position had been spotted by Russian troops they decided to move to another location.

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In low visibility and dense vegetation, Zabielski and Gary came across a trip wire, detonating a Russian mine. Unfortunately, Zabielski would be killed, while Gary survived the accident, with severe injuries.

Russian cluster mines found in an unspecified field in Ukraine (Falcon). Source: https://twitter.com/falconua/status/1537038093420740613
Russian cluster mines were found in an unspecified field in Ukraine (Falcon/Twitter)

Gary was able to radio back to the unit that they had encountered a mine radioed and a Canadian volunteer was sent to rescue Gary (both of his legs were broken) and retrieve Zabielski’s body. On the way, the Canadian drove the vehicle over an area not cleared by their squad and another mine shattered the unprotected vehicle. The Canadian volunteer survived with severe injuries as well.

Believing the explosion would tip off the Russian forces to the impending attack and might invite an artillery barrage, the unit left the area with the two injured volunteers and transported them to the nearest hospital. Zabielski’s body would be retrieved at a later time due to safety issues. Both are expected to recover, though the Canadian, “JT” suffered severe burns from the mine that destroyed his vehicle.

3 Americans Still With Pro-Russian Forces

American and Western fighters continue to fight alongside the Ukrainian Army since the invasion when the Ukrainian International Legion was established. However, some of these fighters are currently in captivity. American volunteers, namely Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, were confirmed to be captured by pro-Russian forces, while Grady Kurpasi has been missing since April 28.

Russian forces have also captured British nationals Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner. They were sentenced to death by a kangaroo court in Donetsk as they were allegedly forced to plead guilty to all charges levied against them. Both men were tried as mercenaries even though they were part of the Ukrainian Marines. Drueke and Huynh are also at risk of being treated as mercenaries. Russia’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated that the two Americans were not part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. However, he is incorrect as they are part of the Ukrainian International Legion.

With over five recorded Westerners killed in action, the State Department has issued a statement reminding Americans to not travel to Ukraine under any circumstances. The Russian forces may single them out if captured, leading them to be used for propaganda and possibly be tried under sham courts for false charges. It is also possible the Russians would use the lives of these POWs as bargaining chips to end US aid to Ukraine and economic sanctions against Russia.  The US would be in the position of having to directly negotiate with Putin over their release and return.  It is unlikely any would face any charges by US authorities as US law does not forbid American citizens from serving in a foreign military as long as that country is not engaged in hostilities against the United States.

As of writing, there are no announcements from the White House on any definitive action to repatriate Drueke, Huynh and Kurpasi.

Steve’s body has been returned to the US and buried by his family in Florida.