KYIV, Ukraine — A retired US Army Special Forces soldier who worked alongside the Ukrainians and was killed in an artillery barrage in Bakhmut earlier this week told NBC News in an interview in February that he was he felt “obliged to come help”.

When the war started, Nicholas Maimer was already working in Europe, he said, as he walked across the icy grounds of a training complex for members of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces.

“I think in recent history… this was one of the clearest violations of human rights and national sovereignty that we have ever seen,” he said, the snow of the Ukrainian winter crunching under his feet as he walked past green military tents. , public latrines. and steel wire fencing. «So personally, with my experience, I knew that I was obligated to come help.»

At the time, Maimer was training volunteers and helping Ukrainian officers develop their own training programs. He said one challenge was overcoming the Soviet-era military mentality that sometimes discouraged people from taking initiative.

He was working to «give them the tools they need to beat the Russians,» he said in a wide-ranging interview, in which he discussed training strategies, the capabilities of the volunteers, the spirit of those he trained and his 14-hour days.

With her face wrapped in a ski mask and her eyes covered by dark sunglasses to hide her identity at the time, Maimer also mentioned the discord she saw at her home. He said he hoped the United States would continue to support him, despite calls by some politicians in Washington to cut US aid to Ukraine.

Former US Special Forces soldier Nick Maimer speaks with NBC News’ Raf Sanchez in Ukraine in February.nbc news

«I think it’s myopic,» he said. “Because of the spirit of the Ukrainian people, what they are asking for is material and they are not asking for our people. The kind of existential threat that Russia poses to the world, I think this is the right place to take a stand.»

Maimer served in the US Army from 1996 to 1998. He then joined the Idaho Army National Guard until 2018, according to his military service record. She was deployed to the Philippines in 2006 during Operation Enduring Freedom, in which Special Forces units advised the Philippine Armed Forces as they fought domestic and transnational terrorist groups.

During his service, Maimer earned multiple awards and decorations, including the Special Forces Token, the Army Commendation Medal, and four Army Achievement Medals.

A Tuesday Telegram post from the commander of the Russian private military company Wagner Group tarnishes Maimer’s death. Yevgeny Prigozhin, who heads the mercenary group, posted a video that he said showed the body of an American, which he appeared to be inspecting. He claimed the man had been shooting at the Russians when they killed him and said the group would return the body to the US.

NBC News was unable to verify the claims made by Prigozhin, who often uses his channel for propaganda purposes or to further his own interests.

Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesman, said the agency was aware of Maimer’s reported death and is working to confirm the details surrounding it. However, he stressed Russia’s obligation under the Geneva Convention.

«Let me point out, however, that as a party to the conflict in Ukraine, Russia, including its Wagner forces, have an obligation under the Geneva Convention to respect the dead, including disrespectful and degrading acts,» he said. Patel at a briefing on Tuesday. .

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met Maimer in kyiv when he visited Ukraine last year. The senator said he was deeply saddened by the news of Maimer’s death, but that he knew the retired Green Beret’s training was of great benefit to Ukrainians.

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the reports that Idahoan Nick Maimer was killed in the Ukraine,” Risch said in a statement. “Upon meeting him, it became clear that Nick was exceptionally well trained and sober about the realities of the war in Ukraine. May he rest in peace.»

Maimer said in a video he posted to his Facebook in late May 2022 that he had come to Ukraine a few weeks earlier and had first linked up with the Western volunteer organization, the Mozart Group, which was formed in response to the Wagner Group. .

At that point in the war, he said he found the Mozart volunteer effort «quite unprofessional» as it failed to «take care of basic security and things like that».

From there, Maimer said he met another retired Green Beret, Lt. Col. Perry Blackburn, who used his experience to help his nonprofit group called AFGFree. Through this group he began his work as a trainer of the Territorial Defense Forces. He said that he felt they were really «moving the needle.»

The effort «will hopefully allow me to save some lives by giving them some good training, because they’re basically taking local civilians who are willing to fight and defend themselves and trying to turn them into soldiers,» he said in the Facebook video. . «And of course they’re trying to do this on the fly.»

Nearly a year later, standing in the snow at the training grounds, Maimer seemed as committed to the cause as ever. He said he had no imminent plans to step down, even though the pool of Westerners, particularly Americans, had dwindled in the months since.

For him, he said, it was important that the American public knew that this war is not someone else’s war, since the Ukrainians had the same desires and principles as the Americans.

“These people want the exact thing that the average American wants,” Maimer said. “They want to start a family, enjoy life, have a good quality of life and have the opportunity to prosper, a better future for their children. They want exactly the same thing. It’s not someone else, somewhere else. It could easily be America.»