The body of a U.S. Army veteran killed last fall near Bakhmut, Ukraine, is finally being returned to his family next week.

Task & Purpose is not identifying the veteran or his family due to multiple cases of families of Americans killed in Ukraine being harassed by Russian trolls, often after the names of their loved ones have appeared in media reports.

The former U.S soldier was killed, his family was told, by a Russian drone strike amid fierce fighting around Bakhmut. Casualties were so high and the combat so intense, his family said, that initial efforts by his Ukrainian comrades to reach the body of the American and others from his unit ended in more casualties. As a U.S. soldier, the American held an Army Military Occupational Speciality with significant and regular training in weapons and combat tactics.

More than 50 Americans have been killed in Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of the country, most of which were U.S. military veterans, according to a list compiled by Task & Purpose from open sources.

The veteran’s mother said she hopes the families of other foreign volunteers listed as missing in Ukraine will be encouraged by her son’s story to keep believing that their loved ones will come home one day. She also wants the United States and the rest of the world to know that the war in Ukraine is still going on.

“And it’s worse now than it has ever been,” she told Task & Purpose.

Russian trolls target families

The veteran’s mother is part of a group of mothers whose sons have been killed in Ukraine. She said at least 20 foreign volunteers, many of whom are Americans, are still listed as missing in action in Ukraine.

Like many other families of Americans who have died in Ukraine, she was targeted by Russian trolls immediately following her son’s death.

“The next minute, through social media, I’m getting the Russian trolls saying they were going to cut [him] up in pieces, feed him to the dogs, and horrendous stuff, and that they had his body,” she said. “The embassy encouraged me not to listen. I obviously blocked them and didn’t listen. But in the back of your mind, that little piece is like: Is the embassy just protecting me? And did the Russians really get his body? So now, I can at least put that piece to rest.”

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Honoring Our Fallen, a non-profit group that supports the families of fallen troops as well as veterans killed in Ukraine, is transporting the Army veteran’s mother, siblings, partner, and his children to Los Angeles so they can be there when his body arrives on Monday, said Laura Herzog, founder of the group, which is also transporting the veteran’s body and his family to his hometown.

“We’re thankful just to honor this service member,” Herzog told Task & Purpose. “These 1%, they raise their hands, and they join our United States military, then they get out and they still feel called to serve, and they are willing to go to the lengths that they go to and sacrifice their lives for others. We’re honored to do what we can to support the family during this difficult time.”

More than 50 Americans have been killed in Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of the country, most of which were U.S. military veterans, according to a list compiled by Task & Purpose from open sources.

The remains of at least 10 Americans remain on the battlefield, according to The Weatherman Foundation, a group of US veterans, relief and humanitarian workers, and Ukrainians dedicated to delivering humanitarian and informal security assistance, helped recover the Army veteran’s body.

When Americans are listed by the Ukrainians as missing in action because their bodies have not been recovered, making it impossible for their families to settle their financial affairs, forcing them to petition Ukrainian courts to prove that their loved ones are legally dead Ukraine requires that a body or DNA must be recovered before a missing soldier can be officially declared killed in action, said a woman whose brother was listed as missing in Ukraine in September. Once a court process is initiated, it can take between eight and 12 months.

Dangers of recovering the fallen

Recovering the bodies of Americans killed in Ukraine can be a harrowing experience. In one case, The Weatherman Foundation used a drone, a dog team and mine clearing experts to safely navigate mines and unexploded ordnance to recover a Marine veteran’s body. The group then had to deal with weeks of bureaucracy before successfully reuniting the Marine veteran with his family.

The Weatherman Foundation spent 221 days searching for the Army veteran, said Iryna Khoroshayeva, the group’s Operations Manager. More than 50 people from various organizations were involved in the search efforts.

Initially, the veteran’s body was nowhere to be found, but a Ukrainian military officer gave the search team an idea to look in an area that still comes under Russian fire, Khoroshayeva said in a statement.

“A good moment was chosen, which was facilitated by bad weather and poor visibility for the enemy, so that a group of brave soldiers could first find the body, then identify it for further evacuation,” Khoroshayeva said. “The evacuation of [his] body is far from absolute luck, but rather the result of coordinated work with people who know their business and for whom the mission to find the fallen hero turned out to be a matter of honor.”

David Bramlette, deputy director of operations for the group, had served with the Army veteran in a Ukrainian military unit. Because they had many friends in common, Bramlette, The Weatherman Foundation was able to get reliable information about where the veteran’s body was.

The Weatherman Foundation coordinated with the Ukrainian military to make sure they knew the veteran’s body was in no-man’s land so they could retrieve the remains on a patrol, Bramlette said in a statement.

“If they had an opportunity to grab him and bring him back, they would, and that is pretty much what happened,” Bramlette said. “Another factor that helped was that the Ukrainian line pushed forward a little bit, so it was easier to do an extraction to get them out.”

Until recently, the veteran’s mother had expected that her son’s body would likely stay in Ukraine, a country that he fell in love with.

Now, being able to bury her son will finally bring closure to her family, especially one of her two other sons, who had continued to hold out hope that his brother was alive and hiding somewhere, she said.

“I was sent some video: They had a memorial of [him] in Kyiv, and seeing the actual coffin definitely hit home more than it has so far,” she said. “I think the reality of seeing his coffin, his casket coming off the plane in L.A. is definitely going to have an impact on us.”

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