Ukraine-Russia War: Live Updates – The New York Times
Two US veterans who volunteered to fight in Ukraine have disappeared, their families said Wednesday.
One man was named Alex Drueke, 39, a former US Army sergeant who served on two tours in Iraq, his family said in a statement. The other was Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, a former Marine, said Darla Black, the mother of Mr Huynh’s fiancé Joy Black, in a telephone interview.
The US State Department said on Wednesday that there were “unconfirmed reports of two US citizens arrested in Ukraine”.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and are in contact with the Ukrainian authorities,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. “Due to privacy concerns, we have no further comment.”
Mr Drueke and Mr Huynh disappeared together when their train came under “heavy fire” on June 9, causing all but the two of its members to withdraw, according to a statement from Mr Drueke’s family. The reconnaissance on foot and by drone did not show any trace of the two soldiers, it said.
“It could mean they’re in hiding or they could have been captured,” said Mr. Drueke’s mother, Bunny Drueke. She added in an email that “intercepted communications” indicated the two Americans might have been captured, but this had not been confirmed.
The two men, if captured, would be the first Americans known to have become prisoners of war during the conflict.
The Drueke family was briefed Monday by another member of the train about the search for the two missing Americans, the family statement said.
“When Russia invaded Ukraine, Alex immediately told me he wanted to use his skills to train Ukrainians to use American weapons,” Ms. Drueke said. “He’s not married, he has no children, and he has the education and the experience. He felt it his duty to help defend democracy wherever it was needed.”
The statement described Mr. Drueke as an avid hiker who had lived on his family’s land in rural western Alabama before the war while hoping to “plan a new adventure” with his mastiff rescue, Diesel.
In an interview with WAAY-TV, an ABC affiliate in northern Alabama, Mr. Huynh, who lived in a small area town, Hartselle, and was from Orange County, California, said he decided to travel to the Ukraine and are fighting after seeing 18 year olds fighting for their freedom.
“I know I may die,” he said. “I’m willing to give my life for what I think is right.”
Before going to Ukraine, Mr Huynh studied robotics at a local college, which Joy attended, Ms Black said. He had been in the Marines for four years and enlisted right out of high school.
“Andy didn’t choose lightly, he made the right choice,” Joy said through sobs in a phone 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 both said they would be out of reach 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.”
A congressional delegation from Alabama — including Senators Richard Shelby and Tommy Tuberville, and Reps Terri Sewell and Robert Aderholt representing the men’s districts — is coordinating with the State Department, Ms Sewell’s chief of staff Hilary Beard said. A spokesman for Gov. Kay Ivey added that the delegation is 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 American military veterans who have attempted to join the fight. The State Department reiterated in its statement that US citizens should not travel to Ukraine.
There have been no confirmed reports of Americans being captured, and only one American has been reported dead: Willy Joseph Cancel Jr., 22, a former Kentucky Marine who was killed on April 24 or 25 when his unit was overrun by Russian troops, Mr. Cancel’s uncle, Christopher Cancel, said in an interview with the New York Times.
Western governments and human rights groups were shaken last week when a court in Russian-held eastern Ukraine sentenced two Britons and a Moroccan to death on charges of being mercenaries.
David Phillips contributed reporting.