US reacts to reported capture of American fighters in Ukraine
The US is monitoring media reports that have claimed that two American nationals have been captured in Ukraine while fighting for the Kiev side. US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Wednesday that Washington will do everything possible to secure their release, if the reports are found to be true.
The two Americans, identified as military veterans Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh by the Daily Telegraph on Thursday, had reportedly been taken prisoner near the city of Kharkov last week. The British newspaper described them as apparently being the first American citizens captured while fighting for Ukraine, and the whole issue as diplomatically sensitive.
Washington has neither confirmed nor denied the capture. John Kirby, the former Pentagon spokesman who now serves as US National Security Council coordinator for Strategic Communications, pledged to use Washington's leverage to secure their release, if the reported capture is confirmed.
“If it’s true, we’ll do everything we can to get them safely back home,” he said, during a press conference in the White House.
The official added that the Biden administration discouraged Americans from going to Ukraine and joining Kiev’s troops.
“It is a war zone,” he said. “And if you feel passionate about supporting Ukraine, there’s any number of other ways to do that that are safer and just as effective.”
The Telegraph said the two men had gone missing during combat last Thursday in the village of Izbitskoe and were apparently captured. The community is located less than ten kilometers from the border with Russia.
The report was based on the account of another foreign fighter from the same unit of the Ukrainian army. The unnamed source insisted that he and his comrades were not mercenaries and claimed he wanted the public to know the story to reduce “the chances of them being quietly executed by whoever is holding them further down the chain.” The same source has apparently talked to other Western media outlets, inlcuding CNN.
According to media reports, Drueke is a 39-year-old from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He signed up with the US Army after 9/11 and held the rank of staff sergeant while serving in Iraq. His mother told The Telegraph that he suffered from PTSD.
Huynh is a 27-year-old from Hartselle, Alabama, who had previously served for four years in the US Marines but had no combat experience before going to Ukraine. He got engaged in March before traveling to Europe.
Last week, the Russia-allied Donetsk People’s Republic sentenced to death three foreign fighters, including two Britons, who’d been captured during the battle for Mariupol. The republic’s top court ruled that they were mercenaries and thus not granted privileges that regular prisoners of war would enjoy under international law. Western nations condemned the sentence.