A South Carolina man serving as a medic in the Ukrainian military was identified by his commanding officer over the weekend as one of two Americans killed in action last week.
Luke “Skywalker” Lucyszyn, a 31-year-old Myrtle Beach resident, died on July 18 in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine after he was knocked unconscious by an artillery strike and fatally shot by a Russian tank, his commander, Ruslan Miroshnichenko, wrote on Facebook.
The State Department confirmed the deaths of two Americans in Ukraine on Friday but did not release their names or further details. Family and friends have confirmed reports that Lucyszyn was one of the men who died.
Miroshnichenko identified the other American as Bryan Young. Other information about Young wasn’t immediately available Monday.
Thousands of foreign fighters, including many Americans, have joined Ukrainian forces battling Russia since it invaded on Feb. 24. Some of the volunteers are hardened veterans from other wars; others have little to no military experience.
Lucyszyn’s longtime friend Trey Kober, of North Myrtle Beach, said Lucyszyn left for Ukraine in early April after telling close friends he felt a responsibility to defend his late grandmother’s homeland.
Lucyszyn volunteered to take the place of another man who needed to be with his family, Kober said.
“I was proud of him,” Kober said in an interview Monday. “He relieved the man, and he immediately started teaching others because some of these guys had never held guns before, had never loaded ammunition into magazines.”
Kober, 40, befriended Lucyszyn on a North Carolina paintball course 12 years ago and took on “an older brother role” for the young paintball instructor. The two spent their weekends camping in the woods and playing multiday paintball matches with friends. Lucyszyn later worked as a police officer and was the father of two children.
Two weeks before his death, Lucyszyn said goodbye to Kober in an emotional Facebook message after he learned that his platoon would soon be sent to the more dangerous Donbas region, where Russia has focused most of its firepower, bombarding cities and towns, in its assault on Ukraine.
“He was pretty confident he wouldn’t be coming back,” Kober said. “He sent us a serious message that said he was being sent to the frontlines to relieve a platoon that had been there for a long time, and he basically just told us, ‘I’m not coming back from this. This is it.’”
Though Kober knew his friend might die in battle, he said nothing could have prepared him for the shock he felt when he learned the news.
Lucyszyn’s parents, Kathryn and George Lucyszyn, said the State Department informed them of their son’s death on a phone call Tuesday. The Calabash, North Carolina, residents said they tried to dissuade their son from serving abroad, but he insisted it was his calling.
“He didn’t go there to be a hero,” Lucyszyn’s mother said Saturday in an interview with NBC News. “He went there because he wanted to help people.”
Schoenbaum reported from Raleigh, North Carolina. Associated Press writers Julia Rubin in New York and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/H_Schoenbaum.