Two Americans Feared Captured By Russians In Ukraine (Updated)
The State Department said it’s aware of “unconfirmed” reports of Americans captured by Russians and urged citizens not to fight in Ukraine.
Two Americans fighting in Ukraine have gone missing and are feared captured by Russia, a volunteer group of former American and French service members doing battle in the war-torn nation claimed on social media today.
On Wednesday morning, a group calling itself Task Force Baguette said it was told two of its members fighting near Kharkiv were captured by Russians. State Department officials told The War Zone on Wednesday that it is aware of this "unconfirmed" report and again urged Americans to avoid fighting in Ukraine.
The White House said Wednesday that it can’t confirm the reports, however, National Security Council coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said that “if it’s true, we’ll do everything we can to get them safely home,” according to CNN. CNN and several other media organizations have reported that the families of the two men say they have been missing for nearly a week.
“A week ago our team ended up isolated in the middle of a Russian Offensive,” Task Force Baguette claimed in a Twitter post Wednesday morning. “Bama and Hate, 2 of our American brothers, were captured.”
The group said that the information about the capture was “confirmed by the Ukrainian intelligence.”
A source in Ukraine intelligence, however, told The War Zone Wednesday afternoon it did not confirm the capture, but is looking into the situation. We will update you with any further information they provide.
“We are aware of unconfirmed reports of two U.S. citizens captured in Ukraine,” a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The War Zone Wednesday morning. “Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment.”
A Task Force Baguette member confirmed to The War Zone Wednesday morning that the missing Americans are Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh. Their identities were first reported by The Telegraph, which said both are U.S. military veterans and are believed to be the first Americans captured by Russians.
Drueke is an Army veteran and Huynh is a Marine veteran. Neither the Army nor Marines were immediately able to provide their releasable service information. We will update this story once that information is available.
Drueke, 39, is from Tuscaloosa in Alabama and had previously served with the US army in Iraq, his mother, Lois, 68, told The Telegraph. She said to the newspaper that her son struggled to hold down a job since returning from military service as a result of suffering from PTSD.
"The US embassy have assured me that they are doing everything they can to find him and that they are searching for him alive, not dead," she told The Telegraph. "I am doing my best not to fall apart, I am going to stay strong. I am very hopeful that they will keep him to exchange for Russian PoWs."
Drueke's mother told CNN that “they are presumed to be prisoners of war, but that has not been confirmed.” She told the network the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine had not been able to verify whether her son has been captured.
“They have not been able to verify that he’s with the Russians. All that they can verify is that he is missing at this point,” she told CNN. “They stay in close touch with me, and I have every confidence that they are working on the situation.”
Joy Black, Huynh’s fiance, told CNN, “We don’t want to make assumptions about what might have happened at this time. Obviously, they’re looking at several scenarios. And one of them is that they might have been captured. But we don’t have absolute confirmation of that at this time.”
The State Department official repeated a warning about U.S. citizens heading to Ukraine.
“We once again reiterate U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict and the singling out of U.S. citizens in Ukraine by Russian government security officials, and that U.S. citizens in Ukraine should depart immediately if it is safe to do so using any commercial or other privately available ground transportation options,” the official said.
He told his pastor that "God placed a burden on his heart of helping the oppressed people in Ukraine. And Andy felt it was time to step up to that calling," the station reported. "Andy says when the war started, he knew that he wanted to go there and help out. He says the turning point for him deciding to go was after seeing young 18-year-olds having to fight for their lives and for their freedom."
Task Force Baguette was on a mission last week in the Kharkiv region when they became isolated during the middle of a Russian offensive, a task force member, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The War Zone via a social media app.
Being overrun by the Russians, the team broke contact with the two Americans, which they initially thought were killed by Russian tank fire. But a day later, the task force member said Ukraine intelligence told them they picked up Russian Telegram chatter saying that the two Americans were not dead, but captured.
The Telegraph reported that the squad set up defensive positions, during which time Drueke and Huynh fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a Russian vehicle, destroying it. But that drew the attention of the tanks, which fired at the men.
CNN said a man acting as the team’s sergeant, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, provided photos of both men’s passports and their entry stamps into Ukraine.
The man told CNN that their unit was fighting under the command of Ukraine’s 92nd mechanized brigade on June 9, near the town of Izbytske.
He said that Drueke and Huynh went missing during the battle and that 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.
Concern about Americans fighting for Ukraine is high in the wake of the death of at least one American and of death sentences handed down to three captured foreigners fighting for Ukraine in Donetsk.
In April, Marine veteran Willy Joseph Cancell, 22, died while working for a military contracting company that sent him to Ukraine, according to PBS. He was believed to be the first American citizen killed while fighting in Ukraine.
And earlier this month, three foreign fighters were sentenced to death for aiding Kyiv.
A court there on June 9 sentenced three foreign men to death who were fighting for Kyiv in the so-called Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), according to ABC News. British citizens Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, along with Moroccan Saadun Ibrahim, were found guilty on Thursday of mercenary activities and attempts to seize power by force in the DPR.
“A court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in Ukraine found the three fighters guilty of seeking the violent overthrow of power, an offense punishable by death in the unrecognized eastern republic,” ABC reported. “The men were also convicted of mercenary activities and terrorism.
“Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti reported that the defendants — identified as Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner and Brahim Saadoun — will face a firing squad. They have a month to appeal.”
Meanwhile, another American held by Russia, WNBA star Brittney Griner, just had her detention extended, according to the BBC.
Griner, who played for the Phoenix Mercury, “will remain in detention until at least 2 July, BBC reported, citing Russian state-owned news agency Tass. She was detained Feb. 17 at a Moscow-area airport after cannabis oil was allegedly found in her luggage.
Griner, 31, “could face 10 years in prison if convicted on drug charges,” the BBC reported.
Her detention was extended for an additional 18 days at "the request of the investigation", the BBC said, citing Tass.
We will keep you updated on the situation surrounding the disappearance of the two men as we get new information.
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Update 3:20 p.m. June 16
The Army and Marine Corps provided service information for both missing veterans.
Alexander John-Robert Drueke was a Chemical Operations Specialist in the Army Reserve from September 2002 to October 2014. He deployed to Kuwait from December 2004 to December 2005 and to Iraq from November 2008 to July 2009.
He held the rank of staff sergeant at the end of service.
Andy Tai N. Huynh served in the Marine Corps from Aug. 19, 2014 until Aug. 18, 2018, leaving the service as a corporal.
He was an Engineer Equipment Operator who did not deploy overseas. His last duty assignment was 1st Transportation Support Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment, 1st Marine Logistics Group at Camp Pendleton, CA.