Two American military veterans previously feared captured by Russia after they volunteered and fought for the Ukrainian army have appeared on Russian television, apparently as Prisoners of War (POWs).
The videos were widely circulated Friday, which elicited a brief statement from the State Department, saying they had "seen the photos and videos of these two U.S. citizens reportedly captured by Russia’s military forces in Ukraine" and "are closely monitoring the situation." The US is not disputing the accuracy of the footage, and the statement constitutes initial confirmation from Washington.
The State Department said it had reviewed footage appearing to show two Americans captured in Ukraine. The department said the men, both U.S. military veterans who volunteered to fight in Ukraine, were "reportedly captured by Russia’s military forces." https://t.co/Z7oPsRhG25
— The New York Times (@nytimes) June 19, 2022
The footage appears to serve as confirmation that 27-year old Andy Huynh and 39-year old Alexander Drueke are still alive, but are in Russian detention, the first such American POWs of the war, following a pair of British volunteer fighters being arrested and put on trial and handed death sentences in a pro-Russian Donetsk court earlier this month.
Russian state media, particularly RT, reported that the men were still alive and are under custody of Russian forces in the Donbas. Starting early last week the men's families have sounded the alarm over their likely capture, describing that they lost all contact with the pair a week ago. The Hill on Friday reported on a video statement made by one of the detained US citizens as follows:
"Mom, I just want to let you know that I’m alive and I hope to be back home as soon as I can be. So, love Diesel for me. Love you," Drueke said in a video shown on RT, referring to his pet mastiff, according to NBC News.
Drueke's mother had just prior to the video emerging said to CNN that "they are presumed to be prisoners of war, but that has not been confirmed." And CBS is now reporting that family members say the footage is authentic:
The mother of one of two U.S. military veterans reportedly being held by Russian or pro-Russian forces told CBS News that Russian media images that were released appear to be of her son.
"Unmistakably under duress, but thank God they're alive," Bunny Drueke, Alex Drueke's mother, told CBS News foreign correspondent Chris Livesay.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby in a briefing to reporters previously said that the US government "will do everything we can" to get Huynh and Drueke back.
"This is a very serious event but among all bad things that happened probably the best thing that we can hear that they are alive." @AnIllarionov reacts to the U.S. veteran releasing a hostage video after being captured by Russia in Ukraine.
— Newsmax (@newsmax) June 18, 2022
Additionally, 49-year old American veteran and foreign fighter Grady Kurpasi has also gone missing in Ukraine, though he wasn't included in any Russian media videos.
President Biden belatedly weighed in on Friday and more and more information emerged, telling reporters, "I have been briefed. We don't know where they are." That's when he took the opportunity to urge Americans not to travel to Ukraine: "I want to reiterate, Americans should not be going to Ukraine now. I'll say it again, Americans should not be going to Ukraine now," he said.
NEW: A new photo posted by a Russian blogger appears to show two American fighters with their hands tied behind their backs in the back of a #Russian military truck. The former U.S. servicemen are both from Alabama and were helping #Ukraine: https://t.co/8CMWJAciVX
— #WVTM13 (@WVTM13) June 16, 2022
Officials and some media pundits have expressed outraged over the newly emerged POW videos, saying it marks a severe violation of the Geneva Conventions and captured soldiers' rights.
Russia's position has been that any foreign fighter captured on the Ukraine battlefield is a "mercenary" and thus is not subject to the Geneva Conventions. For example, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a recent BBC interview stated, "I am not interested in the eyes of the West at all. I am only interested in international law. According to international law, mercenaries are not recognized as combatants."