Alex Drueke and Andy Huynh — who respectively served in the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marines — were fighting on behalf of Ukraine on June 9 when they were separated from their group. The pair were subsequently captured by a Russian patrol.
Earlier this week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the soldiers had been captured and said that because they were not official military personnel, they were not subject to protection under the Geneva Convention. It states that imprisoned soldiers cannot be subjected to physical mutilation or other inhumane treatment.
“They should be held responsible for those crimes they have committed. Those crimes have to be investigated,” Peskov told MSNBC, per Reuters. “The only thing that is clear is that they have committed crimes.”
John Kirby, the coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, said that the United States is “trying to learn more about these two individuals,” yet denounced the Russian official’s sentiment.
“It’s appalling that a public official in Russia would even suggest the death penalty for two American citizens that were in Ukraine,” Kirby said, per CNN. “And we’re going to continue to try and learn what we can about this.”
Kirby expressed concern about Peskov’s comments, regardless of the eventual fate of the two men.
“It’s equally alarming, whether they actually mean what they’re saying here and this could be an outcome, that they could levy a death penalty against two Americans in Ukraine,” Kirby continued. “Or that they just feel it’s a responsible thing for a major power to do, to talk about doing this as a way of signaling to the President of the United States and the American people. Either one of them is equally alarming.”
RT, a Russian state-funded media outlet, posted videos of Drueke and Huynh earlier this week.
“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,” Drueke said in one video. “So, love Diesel for me. Love you,” he said in reference to his dog.
Based upon his use of a keyword and a gesture established before his service in Iraq, Drueke’s mother could confirm that he was okay. “Unmistakably under duress, but thank God they’re alive,” Bunny Drueke told CBS News. “I was just relieved he looks not like he’s been beaten or mistreated. That was really encouraging to me.”
Huynh’s fiancée, Joy Black, told the outlet, “They missed their rendezvous point and that had been a few days prior. They’ve gone and searched, they didn’t find anything. And later I found out they’d done drone searches and still found nothing, no traces.”
A State Department spokesperson told CNN last week that they “have seen the photos and videos of these two US citizens reportedly captured by Russia’s military forces in Ukraine” and were “closely monitoring the situation.”
“We are in contact with Ukrainian authorities, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and with the families themselves,” the spokesperson said. “Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment on these cases.”