Two United States military veterans who were in Ukraine fighting against Russian forces have gone missing and are feared captured, family members and US Congress members have said.
The men – Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27 – who had been living in Alabama before travelling to Ukraine following the February 24 invasion by Russia, were last heard from in the Kharkiv region, which borders Russia.
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Their families said they had last been in contact with both men on June 8 and were told they would be going offline for a few days.
US Representative Terri Sewell said Drueke’s mother had reached out to her office earlier in the week after losing contact with her son. US Representative Robert Aderholt said Huynh’s family had contacted his office about the disappearance.
“As you can imagine, his loved ones are very concerned about him,” Aderholt said in a statement on Wednesday. “My office has placed inquires with both the United States Department of State and the Federal Bureau of Investigation trying to get any information possible.”
The Telegraph newspaper, which first reported on the disappearances, had quoted an unnamed fellow fighter who said the two men were captured after running into a larger Russian group during a June 9 battle northeast of Kharkiv.
The US Department of State said on Thursday that it has not raised the issue with Russia. “[We] haven’t seen anything from the Russians indicating that two such individuals are in their custody,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said during a news conference.
Price also said there were reports of a third US citizen whose whereabouts are unknown, CNN reported. “I can’t speak to the specifics of that case. Unfortunately we don’t know the full details of that case,” he told reporters, according to the US news network.
Both Drueke and Huynh had previously served in the US military, with Drueke serving two tours in Iraq, the last as a lead gunner in Baghdad from 2008 to 2009, according to his mother.
Huynh was a US marine who left the service in 2018, his fiancee, Joy Black, said. He had been studying robotics at Calhoun Community College before leaving for Ukraine in April.
Black posted on Facebook that Huynh’s family was in contact with the Drueke family and government officials, and that nothing had been confirmed other than that the two were missing.
“Please keep Andy, and Alex, and all of their loved ones in prayer. We just want them to come home,” she wrote.
Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that Washington had not contacted Russia regarding the reports of the US fighters.
“I don’t have that information, I check every day, and I’ll check today. We make all information about the fate of detained mercenaries or those sentenced to trial public,” the RIA news agency reported Zakharova as saying.
The Russian military has said it considers foreigners fighting with Ukraine to be mercenaries and claims they are not protected as fighters under the Geneva Convention. The stance has garnered international condemnation.
On Twitter, US Representative Adam Kinzinger said Drueke and Huynh had enlisted in the International Legion, a unit created by Ukraine’s military for foreign volunteers in the wake of the Russian invasion, “and thus are afforded legal combatant protections. As such, we expect members of the Legion to be treated in accordance with the Geneva convention”.
A court in Russian-backed separatist-controlled Donetsk last week sentenced two British nationals and a Moroccan man to death accusing them of being mercenaries who sought to violently overthrow the separatist government. The families of the two Britons have said they were longtime members of the Ukrainian marines, while the Moroccan man’s father has said his son also holds Ukrainian citizenship.
The families of Drueke and Huynh have said the two did not know each other before arriving in Ukraine. Both men had been motivated by alleged atrocities committed by Russian forces on the outskirts of Kyiv in March, they said.
“When Andy saw this footage coming out of Ukraine he said he couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, was just consumed by the horror that these innocent civilians were going through,” Black told Reuters news agency.
Drueke’s mother, Lois Drueke, said: “As a mother of course I didn’t want my child in harm’s way … but I knew that it was really important to Alex, he wanted a purpose to his life and he felt that this was good and noble.”