On March 17, Russian state newspaper Pravda published an article claiming three American men acting as mercenaries were killed in Ukraine. The article claimed the men were members of the Tennessee National Guard.
Pravda based the reporting on a Telegram post from the People’s Militia of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). The Donetsk People's Republic in Ukraine is a self-proclaimed breakaway state with allegiances to Russia.
The Telegram post said personal belongings of Americans who “directly took part in the fighting” were found. Foreign weapons were also allegedly found, according to the post. The DPR also claimed that one of the militants had a Tennessee flag and that other items that identified the dead were found.
Were three members of the Tennessee National Guard killed in Ukraine?
- The National Guard
- Tennessee National Guard
- U.S. State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter
- Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS)
No, three members of the Tennessee National Guard were not killed in Ukraine.
WHAT WE FOUND
On Facebook, the Tennessee National Guard said the three soldiers identified by Pravda were either current or former members who previously served in Ukraine in 2018. The guard said the men are not currently fighting in Ukraine, are not mercenaries, and are all alive.
“They are accounted for, safe and not, as the article headline erroneously states, US mercenaries killed in Donetsk People’s Republic.”
The Tennessee National Guard said the claim stems from a 2018 deployment to Ukraine led by the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment as part of an operation to train soldiers in the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
The soldiers named in the Pravda article were photographed during their 2018 deployment to Ukraine. The images are available on DVIDS, a portal for images taken by the military.
Soldiers with the regiment returned to Tennessee in 2019 after a successful mission, the guard said on Facebook.
In a statement on its website, the National Guard also said the claims were not true.
During the March 18 briefing, U.S. State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter addressed the false claims.
“Let me first start off with dispelling some recent news. There's wide reporting that there were three US soldiers who were killed in Donbass, which is patently false and a deliberate fabrication,” Porter said. “There are no U.S. soldiers in Ukraine. The imagery used in this false reporting [the flag photos] is from 2018. And those depicted in the picture have returned safely to their home state the next year in 2019. They are accounted for. And are not, as the article erroneously states, U.S. mercenaries.”