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Second U.S. citizen killed in Ukraine combat, State Department and family say

Stephen Zabielski, 52, of Hernando, Florida, was killed May 15 while fighting in Ukraine, according to an obituary.
A Ukrainian serviceman stands in front of a burning vehicle during an artillery duel between Ukrainian and Russian troops in the city of Lysychansk on June 11, 2022. Aris Messinis / AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. citizen was killed in combat in Ukraine last month after becoming one of thousands of foreign fighters to take up arms against Russian forces in the wake of Moscow’s invasion, according to the State Department and a family obituary.

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 fullest.”

“He enjoyed hunting, fishing, & riding his Harley. Steve will be missed by all who knew and loved him,” it 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. It said it had already been in touch with Zabielski’s family and provided all possible consular assistance.

The State Department also repeated warnings advising U.S. citizens against traveling to Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion, which was launched on Feb. 24. It said that any U.S. citizens still in Ukraine should leave immediately.

Zabielski is the second U.S. citizen killed in combat in Ukraine since the war began.

Willy Joseph Cancel, a 22-year-old former U.S. Marine, was killed in April after agreeing to go to Ukraine as part of his work with a private military contracting company, his mother, Rebecca Cabrera, told CNN at the time. Cancel had gone to Ukraine in mid-March and was survived by his wife and their 7-month-old child, she said. 

Since the war began, a number of U.S. citizens have volunteered to fight alongside Ukrainian forces, joining volunteers from around the world.

Earlier this month, two U.S. 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 following 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, firing on Russian troops.

“Those guys on the battlefield were firing at our military guys. They were endangering their lives,” 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.”