The US State Department has been made aware of a photograph that appears to depict two American veterans being captured by Russian forces in Ukraine. The picture began circulating on the social media platform Telegram; shortly after, family members of the men said that the State Department began working to verify the authenticity of the photo. However, when questioned, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that “his agency had not seen anything from Russia suggesting that it had” the two men “in custody.”
The social media post offered a caption: ” . . a trip to Ukraine for easy money had ended badly.” Telegram is a popular social media company in both Ukraine and Russia.
The two veterans in question are Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh. Both men are from Alabama. If it is verified by the State Department that the men have been captured, they would be the first two Americans to be taken by Russian forces since the Ukraine conflict began last February. A third American is missing, and he is also thought possibly held captive by Russian military forces. Grady Kurpasi is a U.S. Marine veteran, and CNN cites his wife as the source of this information.
Telegraph cited “an account from an unnamed fellow fighter who said the pair were taken prisoner” sometime around June 9. The families of both men say they have not heard from their loved ones “in days.” They were last known to be near Kharkiv.
Drueke, Huynh, and Kurpasi are just three Americans among hundreds thought to have gone to Ukraine to help support the forces of that country against Russia’s military. Russia launched what it continues to refer to as a “special military operation” in Ukraine in late February, but the Ukrainian people have held them back for months. Many military experts believed at the time of the attack that Russia would take the capital city of Kiev within days.
President Joe Biden was asked about the situation by White House press, to which he replied: “Americans should not be in Ukraine; I repeat – Americans should not be in Ukraine.” He also stated that he had been briefed on the issue, but that he “didn’t know” where the Americans are. The families of the missing men are pleading with the White House for assistance in getting the men home safely. A White House spokesperson said the Biden Administration has “pledged to do everything we can to get them” home again.
Both Drueke and Huynh were in Ukraine helping Ukrainian soldiers learn how to operate American military equipment. Drueke had served two tours in Iraq, and Huynh was a U.S. Marine with four years’ experience. Sources state that the two men were fighting with the Ukraine International Territorial Defense Force, which is the country’s version of a foreign legion. Drueke had a total of twelve years’ military experience. He was a chemical operations specialist.
A fellow volunteer fighter with the unit told Rolling Stone that their team was isolated near Kharkiv and “ended up against artillery, tanks, and armored vehicles.” In an effort to regain some fighting ground, the team fired an RPG-22 at one of the armored vehicles, but a tank to the rear of the vehicle returned fire at the Americans. At this point, the other members of the foreign legion thought the Americans had been killed. According to the volunteer, the day after the battle, an intelligence officer with Ukraine told the team that Russian troops had taken the two men captive.
Ned Price said that the State Department has communicated an urgency to Russia regarding the treatment of any Americans that might be captured during the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Price cited Geneva convention mandates. However, Russia is not known for abiding by conventional rules.
The Washington Post is reporting that a video of the captured men is being shown on Russian television outlets.