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A former U.S. Marine was killed while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces after the private security firm he worked for sent him to war.
The family of Willy Joseph Cancel, 22, of Orange County New York, confirmed that the husband and father of a seven-month-old son had died in the Ukraine fighting Russian forces on Monday, CNN reported.
He is survived by his wife Brittany, who he married in July 2019, as well as the couple’s seven month-old son Anthony.
Cancel’s mother, Rebecca Cabrera, said her son was working for a private military contracting company when he agreed to take up a job to fight in the Ukraine following Russia‘s invasion in February.
‘He wanted to go over because he believed in what Ukraine was fighting for, and he wanted to be a part of it to contain it there so it didn’t come here, and that maybe our American soldiers wouldn’t have to be involved in it,’ Cabrera told CNN.
The circumstances of Cancel’s death remain unclear, including how, when and where he was killed.
His mother added that those fighting alongside Cancel were not able to retrieve his body during the conflict that killed him.
‘They haven’t found his body,’ she said. ‘They are trying, the men that were with him, but it was either grab his body or get killed, but we would love for him to come back to us.’
Willy Joseph Cancel (above), 22, of Orange County New York, was killed while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces after the private security firm he worked for sent him to war
Cancel was married to Brittany (right) in 2019. His mother, Rebecca, said the former Marine jumped on the opportunity to help Ukrainian troops fight back the Russian invasion
Cancel was the father of a seven-month-old son. The young dad is pictured cradling his son
The family said Cancel was living in Tennessee working as a corrections officer when he flew to Poland on March 12 and crossed into Ukraine.
Cabrera told CNN that her son was joined by men from ‘all different countries’ to assist the Ukrainian troops.
‘It was something that he believed in his heart, that was the right thing,’ Cabrera said. ‘He was the type of man who always stepped up when everybody else stepped back, and there were a lot of men who were like that that were with him.’
Cancel’s brother-in-law, Devin Tietze, echoed Cabrera’s remarks, saying that Cancel was the ‘type to fight for what’s right regardless of the outcome.’
‘He believed wholeheartedly this shouldn’t have happened and he wanted to go help the people in Ukraine,’ Tietze told CNN.
Cancel (second from the left, front row) moved on from the Marines to work as a correctional officer in Tennessee. While there, he also worked for a private security firm that provided him the opportunity to travel to the Ukraine to fight in March
Cancel’s family said they are heartbroken by his death, and his body has yet to be found
His family described him as a hero who wanted to help the Ukrainian people and stop the war before US troops could be called in. Cancel pictured with Brittany
The U.S. State Department said they were aware of the reports of Cancel’s death but could not comment based on privacy matters.
The Department reiterated in a statement that: ‘US citizens should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict and the singling out of US citizens in Ukraine by Russian government security officials, and that US citizens in Ukraine should depart immediately if it is safe to do so, using any commercial or other privately available ground transportation options.’
It is not known how many U.S. citizens are actively assisting Ukrainian troops in the war, but the Ukrainian Defense Ministry estimates that more than 20,000 volunteer veterans from 52 countries have joined the fight.
The influx of foreign fighters has led the Ukranian government to create the special International Legion, composed of the visiting veterans allied with the country.
Hill had been in Ukraine caring for his partner Irina who has multiple sclerosis. He shared this photo of her, right, previously with an Idaho TV station about their fight to get out of the conflict zone
Brent Renaud, 50, was in a car with other journalists when Putin’s troops opened fire on him. He has worked in numerous conflict zones around the world and had won awards for his documentaries
Cancel is not the first American to die in the Ukraine as a result of the bloody war.
Jimmy Hill, 67, of Idaho, was gunned down in the streets of Ukraine while buying bread when he refused to leave the warzone because he was looking after his sick partner.
Hill was a lecturer in Kyiv but was in Chernihiv to care for his partner Ira, who has multiple sclerosis. They had returned to the country in December so Ira, who is Ukrainian, could be treated for MS, and became trapped at a regional hospital there.
Hill was among a group of 10 who were lining up to buy bread at a grocery store when Russian troops opened fire in a sickening act of war.
Hill’s death came just a few days after American journalist and freelance filmmaker Brent Renaud, 50, was shot dead by Russian troops while filming refugees in the Ukraine.
Renaud was in a car with other journalists in Irpin when Putin’s troops opened fire. He was fatally-shot in the neck, with one of his colleagues also injured.
Although Renaud was carrying a New York Times press badge at the time of his death, he was in fact working as a freelancer on a global film about refugees commissioned by Time magazine’s studio division.
Renaud’s death was announced by Andrey Nebitov, the head of Kyiv’s police department, who said he paid ‘with his life for trying to highlight the aggressor’s ingenuity, cruelty and ruthlessness.’