On March 17, Russian media reported that three U.S. servicemen purportedly working as military instructors were killed in fighting with forces of the Russia-backed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) in the eastern Ukrainian town of Marinka.
“During the liberation of Marinka, three instructors allegedly from the United States were killed, the people’s militia of the DNR reported,” the RIA Novosti state news agency reported.
“During the liberation of the settlement from the Armed Forces of Ukraine, a stronghold of the first mechanized battalion of the 54th Brigade was destroyed,” the pro-Kremlin website Pravda.ru reported, also citing the DNR.
“Foreign weapons and personal belongings of US mercenaries were subsequently found on the site. In a backpack near the remains of one of the militants, a Tennessee flag of the United States was found, as well as other items that made it possible to identify the deceased as Captain Michael Hawker, Lieutenant Logan Shrum and Lieutenant Cruz Toblin.”
Trouble is, the Tennessee National Guard called the report out as bunk.
In a statement, the Guard’s Office of Adjutant General said the three men were “accounted for, safe and not, as the article headline erroneously states, U.S. mercenaries killed in Donetsk People’s Republic.”
The Guard said it suspects the three were chosen because their images were in an official publication of the outfit’s 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, which had been deployed to Ukraine in 2018 as part of a joint, multinational training group.
According to the Guard’s statement, the three were among 200 soldiers on the 2018 mission to further develop the Yavoriv Combat Training Center in Ukraine. Once the mission concluded, all members “returned safely to their home state,” the statement said.
In fact, the training took place far from Marinka, where Russian media claimed the soldiers died. The center in Yavoriv is 15 kilometers from the Polish border in western Ukraine, a country the size of Texas.
In a strike that U.S. officials said was dangerously close to a NATO country, Russians hit the base on Sunday, killing 35 and injuring 130, Ukrainian officials said.
The self-declared, Russia-backed Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region have been in conflict with the central government in Kyiv since 2014, when Russia instigated an insurgency after a popular uprising that ousted Ukraine's pro-Kremlin president.