By Clarissa Ward, Mick Krever, Scott McWhinnie and Dave Alsup, CNN
Zaporizhzhia region, UkraineCNN — The body of an American man killed in August while fighting alongside the Ukrainian military has been returned to Ukrainian custody by the Russian military.
A CNN team witnessed the transfer in the Zaporizhzhia region on Wednesday.
The American is 24-year-old Joshua Jones, who was killed in August. The US State Department has informed Jones’ family about the body’s return, Jones’ father, Jeff Jones, told CNN on Wednesday.
Joshua Jones’ mother, Misty Gossett, told CNN that the return of her son’s body “means everything” and that it feels like the weight of the world has been lifted off her.
“I’m proud of my son’s character,” Gossett said. “He was selfless in risking his life for a country that we have no connection to at all. But he felt the calling, and there was no talking him out of it.”
The transfer took place just north of Vasylivka, in the Zaporizhzhia region, between Ukrainian and Russian-controlled Ukraine. The two sides had agreed to a two-hour ceasefire in no-man’s land between Russian and Ukrainian-held Ukraine.
A Ukrainian ambulance was on site to transport Jones’ body. The Ukrainians said that they were able to identify the body by Jones’ tattoos and other identifying characteristics. The Russians had also sent photos of the body in advance.
Ukraine released a Russian soldier on Wednesday as part of a larger swap, in which 10 Ukrainians were already freed.
In a tearful phone call, Jeff Jones told CNN: “We got him back!”
“I cannot tell you what a burden is lifted off this family,” said Jones. “I couldn’t give up that hope.”
Jones said he got a message from the International Legion on Wednesday morning at 6:30 a.m. via the Signal app. He said he missed it. At 7 a.m. he got a call from his son’s fiancée with the news.
A little later, the US Embassy in Kyiv called him and verified the return.
Gossett characterized her last conversation with her son as “fun,” telling CNN’s Jake Tapper on Wednesday that Jones sent her a photo three days before his death showing his long beard and ponytail.
She said she joked about barbershops not being open and commented on the red color in his beard. “His whole life he’s looked like his dad, but I saw Mama in that red beard,” she said.
“Joshua, he was a soldier, he was a born soldier,” Gossett said. “He was named after the battle of Jericho, and he proved he lived up to his name so valuably.”
In a statement on Wednesday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price offered his condolences to Jones’ family and said that the US was grateful to Ukraine for including the recovery of this person’s remains in its talks with Russia.
The remains “will soon be returned to the family,” he continued.
Jones’ remains were discovered in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), a breakaway region of Ukraine’s Donetsk region governed since 2014 with support from Russia.
In August, DPR representatives declared that Jones’ body had been moved to a local mortuary and that they were prepared to talk about moving his remains.
Jones joined the list of Americans who have been killed or captured in Ukraine since the conflict began in February.
Both Marine Corps veteran Willy Cancel and Stephen Zabierslki died in fatal accidents in April and May, respectively. According to the State Department, two Americans were killed in Donbas in July.
Two American veterans, Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh and Alexander John-Robert Drueke, were captured in June while fighting for Ukraine in a battle near Kharkiv. The two were freed last month as part of a prisoner swap arranged by Saudi Arabia between Russia and Ukraine.
Additionally, US Marine veteran Grady Kurpasi, who was a third American, was reported missing in action in June by CNN.
The DPR is only regarded as independent by Russia. The region and its institutions are not acknowledged by the international community, which believes the area to be a part of Ukraine. Independent watchdog organizations have long charged the separatists with a poor history of upholding human rights and mistreating detainees.
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