United States officials have said they are aware of reports of a third US citizen missing in war-torn Ukraine, after family and elected officials said two other men who had travelled to the country to fight against Russian forces had gone missing and were feared captured.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Thursday the agency was aware of reports of the third missing person who had travelled to Ukraine to “take up arms”. He added the department was in “touch with the family”, but did not provide further details or identify the individual.
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Price also said Washington has not yet raised with Moscow the issue of two other men reported missing in Ukraine, identified by family members as Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27.
Relatives have told reporters the two men, both US military veterans living in Alabama, were last heard from on June 8 in the Kharkiv region, near the border with Russia.
“[We] haven’t seen anything from the Russians indicating that two such individuals are in their custody,” Price said.
The Telegraph newspaper had previously 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, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Family and US officials have said those reports, as well as a photo circulating on Telegram that appears to show the two men held captive in the back of a truck, remain unconfirmed.
Price added the US has been in touch with Ukrainian officials and the International Committee of the Red Cross concerning the pair. Earlier on Thursday, the White House said it was “working very hard to learn more” about the two missing men.
If confirmed, the duo would be the first US citizens captured by Russian forces in Ukraine since their invasion began on February 24.
US officials have repeatedly discouraged citizens from travelling to Ukraine or joining the International Legion, a military unit created by Kyiv for foreign volunteers in the wake of the invasion.
“There are many individuals [in the US] who are well-intentioned and who want to do everything they can to help the people of Ukraine,” Price told reporters on Thursday. “There are avenues and ways to channel that energy, to channel those efforts in ways that are constructive and ultimately helpful for the people of Ukraine, and you can find many of those on our website.”
The Russian military has been condemned for saying it considers foreigners fighting with Ukraine – even those who have officially joined the International Legion – to be mercenaries. It has claimed such fighters are not protected under the Geneva Convention.
Last week, a court in Russian-backed separatist-controlled Donetsk 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.