KYIV — Two Americans, a Canadian and a Swedish citizen were killed this week when a Russian tank opened fire on them during an hourslong battle at the frontline in the eastern Donetsk region, their commander confirmed exclusively to POLITICO.
Ruslan Miroshnichenko, the foreign fighters’ commander, said Saturday that the Americans killed were Luke “Skywalker” Lucyszyn and Bryan Young. He said they were killed alongside Emile-Antoine Roy-Sirois of Canada and Edvard Selander Patrignani of Sweden on July 18.
The men were part of a special operations force within the Territorial Defense of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Miroshnichenko said. Their unit has been based near Siversk, a town in eastern Donetsk oblast that has been the target of Russia’s invasion force.
In an attempt to slow Russia’s advance, the foreign fighters were deployed to the village of Hryhorivka, two miles northwest of Siversk. There, Miroshnichenko said, “the guys were tasked to take their firing positions” and clear a ravine where Russian forces were working to cross a river.
“They did it successfully. But at the end of the mission they were ambushed by Russian tanks,” Miroshnichenko said. “The first shell injured Luke. Three guys, Edward, Emile, and Bryan, they immediately attempted to help Luke, to do first aid, and evacuate him from this spot. Then the second shell killed them all.”
The State Department spokesperson confirmed the deaths of the two Americans on Friday but did not name them. “We are in touch with the families and providing all possible consular assistance. Out of respect to the families during this difficult time, we have nothing further to add,” the spokesperson told POLITICO.
The Canadian and Swedish governments could not immediately be reached for comment.
Russian troops have used airpower, tanks, and heavy artillery to destroy entire cities and towns in their pursuit of capturing all of the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions, often referred to collectively as the Donbas. Siversk sits 20 miles north of the city of Bakhmut and along a highway that is key to moving troops and materiel to the front. Capturing those two places would give Russia’s army a significant foothold and control of roughly 80 percent of the Donetsk region.
The foreign fighters were dispatched to the area to reinforce Ukrainian troops and were tapped specifically because of their skills and experience, according to a situation report obtained by POLITICO that described the attack in more detail.
“We began preparations for clearing the ravine on the eastern outskirts of the Grigorovka village,” read the report, authored by a commander. “The preparation was carried out on the basis of the following information: At night, the enemy force crossed the river and entrenched themselves in a ravine, possibly digging in. There was a clear danger of creating a bridgehead and grouping a force to strike at the flank and rear of the grouping of our troops.”
“A group of professionals with relevant experience in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was created to carry out the task. Two scouts were checking the territory, they were supported by a machine gun and grenade launcher group in case of a combat encounter and the need to cover the departure of the reconnaissance group, as well as for the purpose of inflicting fire damage on the enemy.”
As the group pressed forward, the report said, “the cover group came under heavy mortar fire from enemy artillery of caliber 120 mm or more and cluster munitions.”
“Luke was wounded during the shelling. The rest of the group … provided appropriate first aid.”
“Taking advantage of the break between shelling, a decision was made to evacuate to the nearest shelter. During transportation, as a result of the direct impact of a tank shell, Brian, Edward, Emile, Luke received injuries incompatible with life.”
Another soldier named Finn, the report notes, “was injured in his left arm and leg.” Another soldier named Oskar “received numerous injuries [and] both moved to the evacuation point independently.”
Russian forces continued to bombard the group with heavy artillery “corrected by drones” for more than two hours, according to the report. Only several hours later did it ease up enough for a team to move in and recover the bodies of the foreign fighters.
The report said that at least six Russian tanks “were supported by 4 armored personnel carriers with up to 70 infantrymen.”
They were met by Ukrainian machine gunners and troops on armored vehicles who halted the Russian forces’ advance.
“As a result of two hours of intense fighting, the enemy retreated with heavy losses,” the report concluded.
In a post memorializing the four men, Miroshnichenko wrote: “Foreign volunteers are knowingly fighting this war against Mordor” — a term from the Tolkien books to describe Sauron’s evil realm that has been adopted in Ukraine to refer to Russia — “and I am honored to be their commander.”
“It hurts so much to lose the boys. Emotions are overwhelming and I can’t find the words right now for the post they deserve,” he continued. “I just want to say, they weren’t hiding, but they looked for every opportunity to be helpful, they all fully volunteered and did their combat duty on the front line till the end. Calmly and with honor. No pathos, like real soldiers.”
Miroshnichenko spoke to POLITICO from the city of Dnipro, where he said the men’s bodies had been taken. “I have to make sure the bodies of all my boys are repatriated,” he said.
Lucyszyn, an American of Ukrainian descent born in 1991, had worked as a police officer in the U.S., according to Miroshnichenko. “He had difficulty pronouncing his surname ‘Lucyszyn,’” he quipped, “but very much insisted on his Ukrainian roots: his grandmother had emigrated from Ukraine to the United States after World War II.”
Speaking about Lucyszyn’s call sign, Skywalker, Miroshnichenko said, “like in Star Wars, he challenged the Evil Empire itself on the side of the weaker but free.”
Miroshnichenko described Young, born in 1971, as an “American military man” who had been injured and moved to reserves. When the Russian invasion began, he decided to come to Ukraine because he “took an oath to protect the Free World.”
Sirois, Miroshnichenko said, was a paramedic with experience in the French Foreign Legion. Born in 1991, he recalled him “always smiling.”
Patrignani, born in 1994, had been a reserve lieutenant, economist and philosopher in Sweden who wanted to form “a platoon of Swedes,” according to Miroshnichenko.
POLITICO could not immediately reach the men’s families for comment.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy opened the doors for foreigners to come and fight for Ukraine in March when he announced the creation of an International Legion. Legion representatives told POLITICO Saturday that “thousands” of foreigners including “hundreds” of Americans streamed into Ukraine to join its fight against Russian invaders.
The Biden administration has repeatedly warned U.S. citizens about traveling to Ukraine and encouraged any of them in the country to leave immediately.
At least three other Americans have died since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Two were killed in action. Two other U.S. citizens, Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, were captured by Russian forces while fighting in the eastern Kharkiv region and are currently in the custody of Russia-led forces in the occupied city of Donetsk.
Paul McLeary contributed reporting from Washington.