Two American veterans who volunteered to fight in Ukraine have disappeared, their families said Wednesday.
One man was named Alex Drueke, 39, a former US Army Staff Sergeant who served two tours in Iraq, his family said in a statement. The other was named Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, a former Marine, Darla Black, the mother of Huynh’s fiancée, Joy Black, said in a telephone interview.
The US State Department said on Wednesday that it was “aware of unconfirmed reports of two US citizens captured in Ukraine.”
“We are closely monitoring the situation and are in contact with the Ukrainian authorities,” a State Department spokesman said. “Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment.”
Mr. Drueke and Mr. Huynh went missing together when their platoon came under “heavy fire” on June 9, causing all of its members to fall back except the two of them, according to a statement sent by Mr. Drueke’s family. . Reconnaissance on foot and with drones did not return any sign of the two soldiers, the statement continued.
“This could mean they are in hiding or have been captured,” said Mr. Drueke’s mother, Bunny Drueke. She added in an email that “intercepted communications” indicated the two Americans may have been captured, but that had not been confirmed.
Better understand the Russia-Ukraine war
The two men, if captured, would be the first Americans known to have become prisoners of war during the conflict.
The Drueke family was notified of the search for the two missing Americans by another member of the platoon on Monday, according to the family statement.
“When Russia invaded Ukraine, Alex told me right away that he wanted to use his skills to train Ukrainians how to operate American weaponry,” Ms. Drueke said. “He is not married, he has no children and he has the training and the experience. He felt that it was his duty to help defend democracy, wherever necessary”.
The release described Drueke as an avid hiker who before the war had been living on family land in rural western Alabama hoping to plan “a new adventure” with his Mastiff rescue, Diesel.
in a interview with WAAY-TV, an ABC affiliate in northern Alabama, Mr. Huynh, who identified himself as a resident of a small town in the region, Hartselle, and Orange County, California, said he had decided to travel to Ukraine and fight after seeing 18-year-olds fighting for their freedom.
“I know there is a possibility that I will die,” he said. “I am willing to give my life for what I believe is right.”
Before going to Ukraine, Huynh studied robotics at a local university that Joy also attended, Black said. She had been in the Marine Corps for four years, joining just after graduating from high school.
“Andy didn’t make the easy decision, he made the right decision,” Joy said between sobs in a telephone interview. “Andy didn’t go there for an adventure. He just wanted to help.”
Both the Black and Drueke families said they last heard from the men on June 8, when each said they would be out of range for a few days.
“Alex’s family has become our family,” Ms. Black said. “If there’s anyone who understands how my daughter is feeling right now, it’s Alex’s mom, so we all feel connected.”
An Alabama congressional delegation, including Senators Richard Shelby and Tommy Tuberville, as well as Representatives Terri Sewell and Robert Aderholt, who represent men’s districts, is coordinating with the State Department, the chief of staff said. Mrs. Sewell’s staff, Hilary Beard. A spokesman for Gov. Kay Ivey added that the delegation was also working with the FBI.
Since the war began on February 24, an unknown number of foreigners have volunteered to help Ukraine in various ways, including hundreds of US military veterans who have sought to join the fray. The State Department reiterated in its statement that US citizens should not travel to Ukraine.
There have been no confirmed reports of Americans captured, and only one American reported dead: Willy Joseph Cancel Jr., 22, a former Kentucky Marine who died on April 24 or 25 when his unit was overrun by Russian troops. Cancel’s uncle, Christopher Cancel, said in an interview with The New York Times.
Western governments and human rights groups were shocked last week when a court in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine sentenced two Britons and a Moroccan to death, accusing them of being mercenaries.
David Phillips contributed report.