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.
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.