While fellow fighters said they were captured during clashes with Russian forces on 9 June, Washington and Moscow have offered little in the name of the whereabouts of the two US military veterans
It has been fifteen days since anybody last heard from Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27, both US military veterans and residents of Alabama, after they disappeared in Ukraine, reportedly fighting against the Russian forces in the Kharkiv region.
While fellow fighters said they were captured during clashes with Russian forces on 9 June, Washington and Moscow have offered little in the name of the whereabouts of the two veterans.
According to a Reuters report, even though Kremlin denied knowing the duo’s location it did not rule out that they could face the death penalty.
Here’s what we know so far:
What happened to Drueke and Huynh?
The residents of Alabama had voluntarily joined Ukrainian forces after Russia’s invasion on 24 February.
The Telegraph, which first reported their disappearances, quoted an unnamed fellow fighter who said the two men were captured after running into a larger Russian force during a 9 June battle northeast of Kharkiv.
Drueke’s mother, Lois Drueke, said that her son told his family that he was teaching Ukrainian troops how to use US-made weapons.
“Alex felt very strongly that he had been trained in ways that he could help the Ukrainians be strong and push Putin back,” she told The Washington Post, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The two are the first Americans believed to have been captured or harmed in Ukraine, which Putin invaded in February.
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, according to a report by Al Jazeera. He had been studying robotics at Calhoun Community College before leaving for Ukraine in April.
On 17 June, Russian state television showed a video of the two US military veterans, confirming that the men were taken captive and raising fears about their fate.
Drueke, speaking into the camera from what appeared to be an office, sent a message to his mother, concluding with a quick 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.” Diesel is his dog, a mastiff.
RT, which broadcasts in English, said they were being held by Russian-backed separatist forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
Where does Russia stand in this?
In a recent interview with NBC News, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the two men were captured while fighting in Ukraine.
“They’re soldiers of fortune and they were involved in illegal activities on the territory of Ukraine. They were involved in firing and shelling our military personnel. They were endangering their lives,” Peskov told the network, in English.
“They should be held responsible for those crimes that they have committed,” he added in the first bits of the interview made public.
“Those crimes have to be investigated.”
The circumstances under which the two men were being held were not fully clear, nor who specifically was holding them. Peskov would only say they were being held by “authorities.”
As to whether they could face the death penalty, Peskov said: “It depends on the investigation.”
Even though Russia does not carry out the death penalty, the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, whose independence is recognised only by Moscow, have it on their statute books.
What does the US say?
The US officials have not confirmed the details of the men’s capture, even though they said to be investigating the situation.
As per the Al Jazeera report, US Department of State spokesman Ned Price said on Tuesday that Washington has been in “direct contact” with Russian authorities and “have not been provided either by Russian authorities or by Russian proxy forces or any other entity with additional details of the whereabouts of these Americans”.
“We are pursuing every channel, every opportunity we have to learn more and to support their families, especially in this difficult hour,” he said.
US Representative Adam Kinzinger last week said that 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, which afforded them “legal combatant protections”.
“As such, we expect members of the Legion to be treated in accordance with the Geneva convention,” Kinzinger said on Twitter.
The US has insisted that anyone captured should be considered a prisoner of war and protected by guarantees of humane treatment and fair trials. But the Russian military has said it considers foreigners fighting with Ukraine to be mercenaries and claims they are not protected as combatants under the Geneva Conventions.
Earlier this month, a court in Donetsk sentenced two British nationals and a Moroccan man to death accusing them of being mercenaries.
With inputs from agencies