Willy Joseph Cancel, an American citizen and former U.S. Marine, has died in Ukraine this week while fighting against Russian forces, according to his family.
Cancel had been working for a private military contracting company when he was killed on April 25, the 22-year-old’s mother, Rebecca Cabrera, told CNN.
The Marine veteran worked full-time as a corrections officer in Tennessee and signed up to work for the private military firm prior to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. After the war started in February, the company asked for contractors to aid in the war effort.
Cancel agreed to join and flew to Poland on March 12 and entered Ukrainian territory around March 12.
“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,” said Cabrera.
The circumstances of Cancel’s death remain unclear and his body has not yet been recovered. His mother said officials notified the family upon learning about her son’s death.
“They haven’t found his body,” Cabrera told the network. “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.”
A U.S. State Department official reportedly refused to comment on Cancel’s death due to “privacy considerations,” but noted that they are “aware of these reports and are closely monitoring the situation,” CNN reported.
“We once again reiterate U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict and the singling out of U.S. citizens in Ukraine by Russian government security officials, and that U.S. citizens in Ukraine should depart immediately if it is safe to do so, using any commercial or other privately available ground transportation options,” said the official.
Cancel is survived by his wife, Brittany Cancel, and his 7-month-old son.
His death comes more than a month after American citizen Jimmy Hill was killed in Chernihiv. Hill had traveled to Ukraine in December 2021 so his partner, Irina, a Ukrainian citizen, could receive treatment at a local hospital for multiple sclerosis, according to KIFI-TV.