National Guard says Americans Russia said were killed in Ukraine are alive and 'safe'

Pro-Russian fighters in the Donetsk region of Ukraine.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko)

A Russian news report claiming that three members of the Tennessee National Guard were killed in Ukraine while serving as mercenaries is "fake news," a spokesperson for the National Guard said Thursday.

The Pravda newspaper published the names of the three Americans and their military ranks, claiming their deaths were reported by a separatist militia in the Donetsk region. The report also said they were identified by items in a backpack found "near the remains of one of the militants," which contained a Tennessee state flag.

In a statement, the Tennessee National Guard said the three men are "accounted for, safe, and not, as the article headline erroneously states, U.S. mercenaries killed in the Donetsk People's Republic." A U.S. official told Reuters two of the men are still in the Tennessee National Guard and in the state, while the third has left the service but is not in Ukraine.

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The National Guard said it's possible the militia found images showing members of Tennessee's 278th Armored Calvary Regiment during a deployment to Ukraine. "All members of the Tennessee National Guard returned safely to their home state in 2019 after a successful mission," the National Guard spokesperson said.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, President Biden ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops to avoid a direct confrontation with Russia. On Sunday, Russian cruise missiles targeted the Yavoriv International Center for Peacekeeping and Security, where the U.S. military trained Ukrainian forces prior to the pullout.

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