A second Australian member of a foreigners military unit in Ukraine known as “The Chosen Company” has been killed while fighting against invading Russian forces in the country’s east.
Sources have confirmed to the ABC that Victorian man Joel Benjamin Stremski died last month in the same artillery strike that killed former Townsville-based soldier Matthew Jepson.
The 21-year-old known by colleagues as “Jay” had lived in Melbourne and served with the Australian army before travelling overseas to join Ukraine’s war effort.
The young Australian is among several foreigners killed over the past few weeks during intense battles around the city of Avdiivka, a region that has seen some of the fiercest fighting of the Ukraine war.
Both Australians killed in October were members of the same volunteer group of English-speaking military veterans which is attached to the 59th motorised brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF).
In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said it was “providing consular assistance to the family of an Australian who died in Ukraine”.
“We send our deepest condolences to the family at this difficult time,” a DFAT spokesperson told the ABC.
“Owing to our privacy obligations we are unable to provide further comment.”
A figure connected to “The Chosen Company” has told the ABC that New Zealand’s honorary consul based in Kyiv has been helping injured Australian members of the military unit, including hospital visits, and arranging medical transfers.
Australian diplomatic staff, who have been prevented by DFAT from re-entering Ukraine over safety fears, are also providing consular assistance remotely from Poland’s capital Warsaw.
On Monday Opposition Defence spokesman Andrew Hastie again demanded the Albanese government reopen Australia’s embassy in Kyiv like many other western nations.
“I think it’s time that this government sent a message that we are friends with Ukraine, that we support their efforts and that would mean re-establishing a diplomatic post there in Kyiv.”
Member of ‘Chosen Company’ says unit is hitting Russian forces ‘hard’
There are few publicly available details about “The Chosen Company”, which draws volunteer fighters from around the world including military veterans from the United States.
The group is reportedly led by Ryan O’Leary, a veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars who describes himself on social media as “Chosen Company Commander”.
In a recent online appearance with military podcaster and veteran Matt Williams, an anonymous Australian member of the unit described their highly dangerous operations.
“We’re all foreigners from all walks of life, with various or no military experience, and essentially we’re just like a shock, or storm unit,” the fighter said in an interview from eastern Ukraine.
“We’ll just hit them (Russian forces) hard and fast before they have time to prepare,” the Australian says in a video published in September, a month before the deadly Russian strike that killed his compatriots.
Last year a federal government figure told the ABC that up to 200 Australians were thought to have travelled to Ukraine to fight Russia’s invasion, but the current figure is believed to be substantially lower.