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State Department says two Americans died recently in the Donbas

Two Americans recently died in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, the U.S. State Department said Friday.

It was not known whether they had been fighting alongside Ukrainian forces in the region, which has been the focus of intense Russian assault and continuing Ukrainian resistance in recent weeks. The State Department provided no further information about their identities or the circumstances of their deaths, citing respect for their families.

U.S. officials are in touch with the families and are providing consular assistance, according to a State Department spokesperson.

At least two Americans are believed to have died while fighting alongside Ukrainian soldiers. Willy Joseph Cancel Jr., 22, of Kentucky, a former Marine infantryman, died in late April, according to his family. Stephen Zabielski, 52, of Florida, was killed in mid-May, according to a family obituary.

The two Americans were not a part of the Ukrainian army’s International Legion, said a spokesperson from the legion, which has signed up volunteer fighters from around the world since the start of Russia’s invasion. Earlier this month, the legion released the names of three foreign nationals who had died in combat, two from Brazil and one from France, but said there had also been other casualties.

In recent weeks, Russian forces have taken control of one of the Donbas’ two provinces, Luhansk, and have continued their push for the other, Donetsk. This week, a top Russian official indicated in an interview with RIA Novosti that Moscow could broaden its territorial ambitions beyond the Donbas to a swath of Ukraine’s south.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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