Efforts Underway to Find Body of Former Marine Reportedly Killed in Ukraine

An American citizen, Willy Joseph Cancel, fighting alongside the Ukrainian army has been killed, members of his family confirmed to CNN.

Cancel, 22, was a U.S. Marine who was working with a private military contracting company when he was killed Monday. According to his mother, his body has not been recovered.

The contracting company sent Cancel to Ukraine when Russia invaded the neighboring country, Cancel's mother, Rebecca Cabrera, told CNN.

Cabrera was told that her son had died by a group Cancel was fighting alongside.

U.S. in Ukraine
A former U.S. Marine was killed while fighting alongside the Ukrainian army this week. Above, members of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Battalion, 69th Armored Regiment deploy to Germany to reassure NATO allies and deter Russian aggression. Getty Images

"They haven't found his body," she said, according to CNN. "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."

Cancel flew to Poland on March 12 and crossed over into Ukrainian territory some time after that, according to Cabrera.

"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," Cabrera said, according to CNN.

Cancel is survived by a seven-month-old baby and wife, according to his mother.

"He was just a really thoughtful person. He always put everybody ahead of himself even when situations were so stressful," Cabrera said of her son, according to CNN. "He always kept everybody laughing and calm. He was the man that stood up when everybody else stood back."

A spokesperson with the State Department told CNN they are "aware of these reports and are closely monitoring the situation."

"Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment," the spokesperson added, according to CNN. "We once again reiterate US citizens should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict and the singling out of US citizens in Ukraine by Russian government security officials, and that US citizens in Ukraine should depart immediately if it is safe to do so, using any commercial or other privately available ground transportation options."

In March, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky invited foreign volunteers to fight aside his army in the newly formed International Legion of Ukraine.

According to Ukrainian officials, over 20,000 volunteers from 52 different countries have joined the International Legion to help boost Ukraine's army, according to the Ukrainian news outlet Ukrinform.

It is unknown exactly how many U.S. citizens have signed up for the volunteer forces.

Newsweek reached out to the State Department for comment.