Two American citizens and military veterans who were fighting alongside Ukraine forces against the Russian invasion are feared captured, CNN and other major media are reporting Thursday.
Alexander John-Robert Drueke, 39, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, from Hartselle, Alabama are currently "missing" from the battlefield, however, their precise fate is as yet unconfirmed, according to a State Department official.
If their capture by the Russian army is confirmed, it would mark the first known instance that American volunteers have been taken into custody by Russia, raising the stakes and tensions significantly between Washington and Moscow.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby didn't confirm the reports, but strongly hinted that it's the administration's belief they were likely captured, given he stated to reporters the US government "will do everything we can" to get Huynh and Drueke back.
The men's families have sounded the alarm over their likely capture, describing that they lost all contact with the pair a week ago. Further CNN in a fresh report has revealed the following details of their last known whereabouts as follows:
A man who is acting as the team’s sergeant, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, provided CNN with photos of both men’s passports and their entry stamps into Ukraine. The man said that their unit was fighting under the command of Ukraine’s 92nd mechanized brigade on June 9, near the town of Izbytske.
Drueke and Huynh, he said, went missing during the battle and subsequent search missions failed to find any remains. A post on a Russian propaganda channel on Telegram the following day claimed that two Americans had been captured near Kharkiv. “It was absolute chaos,” he told CNN. “There was about a hundred plus infantry advancing on our positions. We had a T72 firing on people from 30, 40 meters away.”
Drueke's modter said to CNN that "they are presumed to be prisoners of war, but that has not been confirmed."
Throughout Thursday morning the reports received such international attention that the Kremlin formally addressed the allegations of American foreign fighters in its custody:
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on June 16 in a televised program that Washington had not contacted Moscow regarding the two U.S. citizens.
Huynh is a Marine veteran, while Drueke is an Army veteran - though little has as yet been revealed by the respective branches about their service record at this point.
The US State Dept. now says the US is "closely monitoring the situation" and are "in contact with Ukrainian authorities" - but issued no further details based on "privacy considerations". Likely if US officials had anything to make them believe that the Russian Telegram reports and claims are false, they would deny it.
Last week there was shock and outrage in the West after a pair of British fighters that were in the Ukrainian army were handed death sentences after their capture during battles in the Donbas region by a pro-Russian Donetsk court. 28-year old Aiden Aslin and 48-year old Shaun Pinner were charged with "terrorism" and "being a mercenary". A third foreigner, a Moroccan, was also tried alongside them and given the same sentence.