The families of Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27, said last week that the couple, both U.S. Army veterans and residents of Alabama, went missing in Ukraine. Family members said they were last heard from on June 8 in the Kharkiv region.
Other fighters said the pair were captured during clashes with Russian forces on June 9. If confirmed, they would be the first Americans captured in the conflict. However, Washington and Moscow have offered few details in recent days.
The US State Department said it was also aware of a third US citizen, identified by his family as 49-year-old Navy veteran Grady Kurpasi, who had traveled to Ukraine but was not known. haven’t heard from since April. He gave no further details, although his family said he could also be a POW.
Meanwhile, Russian state television aired footage purporting to show Drueke and Huynh in custody, though they did not identify their location or who was specifically holding them.
Russian news agency Interfax, citing an unidentified source, reported on Tuesday that Drueke and Huynh were being held in the separatist-controlled, Russian-backed Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.
The report, which has not been confirmed, is said to be significant. In early June, a court in the separatist region sentenced two British citizens and a Moroccan national to death for supporting Ukraine in the fight against Russia, which invaded on February 24.
Here is what is known about the Americans allegedly captured.
What did Russia say?
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in an NBC News interview aired on Monday, appeared to confirm that the pair were captured while fighting in Ukraine. However, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Peskov said Moscow did not know the whereabouts of the two men.
He called Drueke and Huynh ‘soldiers of fortune’, reiterating Moscow’s position that foreign fighters aiding Ukraine were ‘mercenaries’ and therefore unprotected by the Geneva Conventions, which set international standards for treatment. human prisoners of war.
He said the men “were involved in the shooting and shelling of our military personnel. They were putting their lives at risk,” adding that the two men “should be held accountable for the crimes they committed.”
Asked if the couple could be sentenced to death if tried by a separatist court, the spokesperson said: “We cannot rule anything out because these are court decisions. We never comment on them and have no right to intervene in court decisions.
While Russia does not apply the death penalty, the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, whose independence is recognized only by Moscow, have included it in their statutes.
“We are talking about mercenaries who threatened the lives of our servicemen,” Peskov told reporters. “And not only ours, but also the service staff of the [Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics].”
What did the United States say?
US officials have maintained they are investigating the situation, but have yet to confirm details of the men’s capture.
Last week, US President Joe Biden said he did not know where Drueke and Huynh were.
On Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington was in “direct contact” with Russian authorities and “has not received from Russian authorities or Russian proxy forces or any other entity additional details about the fate of these Americans.”
“We are pursuing every channel, every opportunity we have to learn more and support their families, especially at this difficult time,” he said.
Price said the United States has repeatedly “called on the Russian government and its proxies to respect their international obligations in the treatment of all individuals, including those captured fighting in Ukraine.”
“We expect, and indeed international law and the laws of war expect and demand that all those captured on the battlefield be treated with humanity and respect and in accordance with the laws of war,” he said. -he declares.
Meanwhile, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby called “appalling” the Kremlin’s suggestion that Drueke and Huynh could be sentenced to death.
Kirby declined to say what action the United States would take if its citizens were not treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.
Who are Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh?
The families said Drueke and Huynh were forced to travel to Ukraine after seeing reports of alleged atrocities committed by Russian forces after the invasion.
While the men didn’t know each other before traveling to Ukraine, they became “buds” during their stay, Drueke’s aunt told the The Switzerland Times news agency.
Drueke, who is from Tuscaloosa, had served two tours in Iraq with the US military, the last as a gunnery chief in Baghdad in 2008 and 2009, his mother, Lois Drueke, said. She recently told Reuters news agency that Drueke had not been to Ukraine “in a military capacity”. He left as a civilian with military training.
Huynh is the son of Vietnamese immigrants and was born and raised in Orange County, Calif., according to the Decatur Daily newspaper. The former US Marine had moved to Trinity, Alabama to be with his fiancée and was studying robotics at Calhoun Community College when the Russian invasion began.
“I know it wasn’t my problem, but there was this instinct that I felt I had to do something,” Huynh told the Decatur Daily, describing his decision to travel to Ukraine. “Two weeks into the war, it kept eating away at me inside and I felt bad. I was losing sleep… I could only think about the situation in Ukraine.
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