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American killed fighting alongside Ukrainian forces, his family says

An American fighting with Ukrainian forces has been killed in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, according to his family.

Willy Joseph Cancel, 22, died Monday in Ukraine, his family members confirmed to CNN.

Cancel, a former U.S. Marine, agreed to go to Ukraine as part of his work with a private military contracting company, his mother, Rebecca Cabrera, told the news outlet.

NBC News has reached out to Cancel’s family and the State Department for confirmation overnight but did not hear back.

Cancel went to Ukraine in mid-March and leaves behind his wife and their 7-month-old, his mother said.

“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 told CNN.

She said that his body has not been found.

"They haven’t found his body,” Cabrera said. “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 was originally from Orange County, New York, Cancel’s brother-in-law, Devin Tietze Jr., said to CNN. He was living in Tennessee before he left for Ukraine, he said. 

“He believed wholeheartedly this shouldn’t have happened and he wanted to go help the people in Ukraine,” Tietze said to the outlet.

A State Department official told CNN they are “aware of these reports and are closely monitoring the situation.”

“Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment,” the official's statement continued. “We once again reiterate U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict and the singling out of U.S. citizens in Ukraine by Russian government security officials, and that U.S. citizens in Ukraine should depart immediately if it is safe to do so, using any commercial or other privately available ground transportation options.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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