Videos of two US citizens who went missing while fighting in Ukraine last week were shown on Russian state television Friday, confirming that the men had been captured and raising fears for their safety.
Andy Huynh, 27, and Alexander Drueke, 39, went missing near the northeastern border city of Kharkiv, Huynh’s fiancee, Joy Black, 21, told NBC News Thursday. She said that one of his friends had informed her that the two got separated on a mission and did not make their rendezvous point. She added that Hyunh was a former US Marine who left the service in 2018.
Their fate was unknown until Friday, when the video was broadcast on RT, a state-controlled international television network, which reported that the two were being held captive by the Moscow-backed separatist forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
Speaking from what appeared to be an office, Drueke sent a message to his mother, Lois, mentioning his dog, a mastiff called Diesel, before signing off with a wink.
“Mom, I just want to let you know that I’m alive and I hope to be back home as soon as I can be. So, love Diesel for me. Love you.”
Drueke’s aunt Diana Shaw told The Associated Press that the video included a keyword and a gesture that he had set up with her beforehand so she would know that it was indeed him and that he was OK.
Lois Drueke told NBC News on Wednesday that she last time she heard from her son was on June 8. She said that Drueke had served two tours in Iraq, the last as a lead gunner in Baghdad in 2008-2009.
A spokesperson for the State Department said Friday that US officials had “seen the photos and videos of these two US citizens reportedly captured by Russia’s military forces in Ukraine.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and our hearts go out to their families during this difficult time,” the spokesperson said. “We are in contact with Ukrainian authorities, the International Committee of the Red Cross and with the families themselves.”
The State Department spokesperson also reiterated an earlier call from President Joe Biden that US citizens “should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict.”
The US has insisted that anyone captured must be considered a prisoner of war and be guaranteed fair trials and humane treatment.
However, the Russian military said it considers foreigners fighting in Ukraine as mercenaries, and thus not protected as combatants under the Geneva Conventions.
Moscow has not commented on the video. But Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Thursday that the US had not yet contacted the ministry in connection with the media reports about “two American mercenaries detained in the suburbs of Kharkiv,” the state news agency RIA reported.
There has been no word about a third veteran, Grady Kurpasi, who went missing while fighting in the Eastern European nation, according to a report in The Washington Post, which cited his wife, Heeson Kim.
George Heath, a representative for Kurpasi’s family, told the newspaper that Kurpasi, 49. was last heard from on April 26, when he was tasked with holding an observation post in the Kherson region so civilians there could evacuate.
This month three men, two from the UK and one from Morocco, were sentenced by a Russian-backed separatist court in Donetsk to be executed by firing squad.
The three — Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner and Saaudun Brahim — had been captured while fighting for Ukraine and found guilty of working toward a violent overthrow of power, as well as of mercenary activities and terrorism.
The Kremlin said Tuesday that it would be ready to consider an appeal by the UK over the fate of its citizens.
Associated Press contributed.