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.”
On Wednesday, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price expressed his condolences to Jones’ family in a statement, saying the “United States is appreciative of Ukraine for including recovery of this individual’s remains in its negotiations with Russia.”
He added that the remains “will soon be returned to the family.”
Jones’ remains were found in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), a Russian-backed, self-declared republic that has governed a breakaway portion of Ukraine’s Donetsk region since 2014.
DPR officials said in August that Jones’ body had been transferred to a mortuary in the region, and that they were ready to discuss a transfer of his remains.
Jones became one of a number of Americans who have been captured or killed in Ukraine since the outbreak of war in February.
Stephen Zabierslki was killed in May and Marine Corps veteran Willy Cancel was killed in April. In July, the State Department said two American citizens were killed in Donbas.
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 pair were released last month as part of a prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine that was brokered by Saudi Arabia.
And CNN has previously reported that a third American, US Marine veteran Grady Kurpasi, went missing in action in June.
Russia is the only country that considers the DPR independent. The international community does not recognize the region and its institutions, and considers the territory to be part of Ukraine. Independent watchdog groups have long accused the separatists of a dismal human-rights track record and ill-treatment of prisoners.
Clarissa Ward, Mick Krever, and Scott McWhinnie reported from Zaporizhzhia; Dave Alsup reported from Atlanta. Amanda Musa, Rob Picheta, Olly Racz, Manveena Suri, Jennifer Hansler, Andi Babineau and Sahar Akbarzai contributed reporting.