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Russian Mercenary Group Claims American Veteran Killed in Ukraine Firefight

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The leader of a Russian mercenary group claimed to show in a video released Tuesday the body and IDs of a U.S. veteran killed amid fighting in Ukraine.

The video of Yevgeny Prigozhin, commander of the Wagner Group, which functions as a private arm of the Russian military, circulated online and appeared to show him holding a retiree card, driver’s license and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs identification card. Military.com could not confirm the authenticity of the video Tuesday afternoon and is not reporting the name of the veteran.

The video — which is black and white and appears to be filmed at night — pans to a half-dressed body lying in rubble. It was released as Ukraine continues fierce fighting against Russian forces in Bakhmut, the epicenter of the conflict. The mercenary group is known to fabricate and spread disinformation to promote its status on the battlefield and with the Kremlin.

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American veterans have flocked to Ukraine to help in the fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, and some have died there. Throughout the conflict, videos of prisoners of war and the violence have surfaced. The latest video — featuring the head of Russia’s for-hire military forces — appears to push the boundaries of how the dead should be treated under international war conventions.

Wagner has reportedly committed war crimes across the globe and amid several different conflicts. In Mali, for example, victims reported “horrific executions; mass graves; acts of torture, rape and sexual violence; pillaging; arbitrary detentions; and enforced disappearances” committed by Wagner and its allies, according to U.N. Human Rights Council experts.

In Ukraine, a former mercenary admitted to killing injured Ukrainian prisoners of war with grenades earlier this year amid other atrocities, according to The Guardian.

In the most recent video, Progozhin says, “Here we have a veteran,” using the name of an American. “So, we will pass him along to the United States of America, we will put him in a coffin, and cover him with an American flag because he didn’t die in his bed an old man but died in war and most likely in a worthy way, right?”

A Wagner mercenary next to Prigozhin in the video claims the man died in a firefight.

Military.com attempted to contact the family of the person reportedly depicted in the video. A newspaper in the family’s state reported that a relative and colleague had identified the man.

“We are aware of the reports of the death of a U.S. citizen in Bakhmut and are seeking additional information,” a State Department spokesperson told Military.com on Tuesday. “Our ability to verify reports of deaths of U.S. citizens in Ukraine is extremely limited.”

“We offer our condolences to the families of all whose lives have been lost as a result of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine,” the spokesperson added, reiterating a State Department notice warning U.S. citizens about traveling to Ukraine amid the conflict.

The department has recommended that U.S. citizens not travel to Ukraine due to the war and the singling out of citizens by Russia’s security officials. It said citizens should depart immediately if possible.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that Prigozhin offered Ukraine officials information on Russian battle positions in exchange for a withdrawal from Bakhmut, according to U.S. intelligence documents leaked on a social media platform by a junior Air National Guardsman. The Wagner chief denied the report.

Prigozhin also made splashes in the media after he said earlier this month that he and his mercenaries were not getting enough artillery shells from the Russian Defence Ministry.

— This story is developing and will be updated as information is confirmed.

— Konstantin Toropin contributed to this report.

— Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.

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