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Ukraine suspends US-born spokesperson after GOP senator expresses concerns over threats

Ashton-Cirillo came under fire for saying in a video: "Russia's war criminal propagandists will all be hunted down and justice will be served."

Published: September 21, 2023 2:18pm

Ukraine suspended its U.S.-born military spokesperson, Sarah Ashton-Cirillo, after Ohio Republican Sen. J.D. Vance voiced concerns about the spokesperson's unapproved comments threatening physical violence. 

Ashton-Cirillo, who is believed to have been the only publicly transgender woman to serve as a war correspondent in Ukraine, had worked as an LGBTQ Nation reporter until joining the Ukrainian military last year and becoming a spokesperson for the country's Territorial Defense Forces last month. 

Ukraine's Defense Ministry said Wednesday that Ashton-Cirillo was suspended from being a spokesperson while an investigation is conducted. Ashton-Cirillo's comments were not approved by officials, the military also said, adding, "the defense forces of Ukraine strictly observe the norms of international humanitarian law."

Ashton-Cirillo came under fire online last week for saying in a video: "The teeth of the Russian devils will gnash even harder, and their rabid mouths will foam in uncontrollable frenzy as the world will see a favorite Kremlin propagandist pay for their crimes. This puppet of Putin is only the first. Russia's war criminal propagandists will all be hunted down and justice will be served."

Days after the spokesperson's comments went viral, Vance wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and National Intelligence Director Avril Haines asking for more information about Ashton-Cirillo. 

"I’ve seen claims this individual is an American, a former intelligence operative in the United States, and an employee of the Ukrainian government. Others have argued Ashton-Cirillo is pulling an elaborate prank. If so, kudos for the delivery of high quality humor," Vance wrote.

Vance asked the officials to answer whether Ashton-Cirillo is a U.S. citizen and is receiving U.S. funding, among other things. 

"While we can debate the merits of these accusations, engaging in protected speech should not invite threats of violence—otherwise, the First Amendment means nothing," he also wrote. 

Follow Madeleine Hubbard on X or Instagram.

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