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U.S. Marine veteran fighting in Ukraine has been missing since April

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 6/17/2022 Amy Cheng, Alex Horton
Foreign volunteers for Ukraine at a shooting range in Poland on May 20. © Michal Dyjuk/AP Foreign volunteers for Ukraine at a shooting range in Poland on May 20.

A former U.S. Marine Corps officer named Grady Kurpasi has been missing in Ukraine since April, a family representative told The Washington Post on Thursday evening.

A German military veteran who has fought against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has told The Washington Post that Kurpasi was part of his unit and went missing on the same day another American fighter in that unit, Willy Joseph Cancel, was killed.

Two other American veterans who have been fighting in Ukraine have recently lost contact with family and are feared to have been captured by Russian forces, their relatives said this week.

Live updates: Read the latest news from Ukraine

Kurpasi, who volunteered to join Ukraine’s fight against Russia, left the United States in early March and arrived in Kyiv on March 21, said George Heath, a representative for his family.

Heath said the 49-year-old was last heard from on April 26, when he was tasked with holding an observation post in the Kherson region so civilians there could evacuate. Kurpasi last spoke to family and friends in the United States a few days before the assignment.

After family members of the two other missing Americans, Alexander J. Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Huynh, 27, both of Alabama, spoke to news organizations, the State Department said a third American had gone missing several weeks ago. Government officials did not name him. CNN first confirmed Kurpasi’s identity.

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Heath said that Kurpasi’s cellphone signal was recently traced to the vicinity of a large shopping mall in the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions. He did not provide more detail, and The Post could not independently verify that claim.

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Kurpasi lived in New York City during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and joined the Marines shortly after, Heath said. He called Kurpasi, who was his platoon commander in the Marines between 2012 and 2014, a “great man” who has always “led from the front and led by example.”

During his 20 years of military service, Kurpasi took part in three combat tours in Iraq and was awarded a Purple Heart, according to his service record provided to The Post. The linguistics graduate from the UCLA received a scholarship from the Pat Tillman Foundation, which provides education grants to promising leaders with a military background, in 2009.

While many foreigners volunteered to fight Russia alongside the Ukrainian military, Heath said Kurpasi had originally intended to help civilians. He “fell into” a combat role, Heath said. “He did end up … serving and getting some fights. But that wasn’t his priority.”

A German army veteran who also fought in Ukraine told Post last month that Kurpasi was part of his unit, along with Cancel, the 22-year-old Marine Corps veteran believed to be the first American fighter killed in the war.

Pascal, the German fighter, spoke on the condition that his full name not be disclosed, citing concerns for his safety and that of family and friends. He said the team had communications problems and felt underinformed on some of their missions.

The day Cancel was killed, Pascal said, the team took fire from a position they believed to be Ukrainian but didn’t have radio communication to confirm. Grady and another member of the team who was not American ventured out to investigate, Pascal said. Gunfire sounded, and they never returned.

The remaining team members soon came under heavy Russian fire, including artillery rounds, from the same direction, Pascal said. One team member was killed in the shelling. Pascal and another volunteer turned their attention to Cancel, who had been struck by shrapnel, he said. They applied tourniquets in a fruitless attempt to stop the bleeding. Both bodies were left behind as Pascal and another survivor withdrew.

Dan Lamothe, Timothy Bella and Abigail Hauslohner in Washington, and Souad Mekhennet in Berlin contributed to this report.


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