Alex Drueke and Andy Huynh — who respectively served in the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marines — were fighting alongside Ukrainians when their group “came under heavy fire in the northeastern Kharkiv region” on June 9, according to AL.com. The pair traveled through the woods after they were separated from their colleagues and were subsequently captured by a Russian patrol.
“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 a Telegram video posted by RT, a Russian state-funded media outlet. “So, love Diesel for me. Love you,” he said in reference to his dog.
According to AL.com, Drueke used a key word and a gesture established by him and his mother ahead of a tour in Iraq so that she would know he was okay. “Unmistakably under duress, but thank God they’re alive,” Bunny Drueke, Alex Drueke’s mother, confirmed to 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 CBS, “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 on Friday 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.”
Russian officials acknowledged that Drueke and Huynh were being held.
“They are soldiers of fortune,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told MSNBC, per Reuters. “They were involved in illegal activities on the territory of Ukraine. They were involved in firing at and shelling of our military personnel. They were endangering their lives.”
Peskov remarked that the men were not part of the Ukrainian military and therefore not subject to protections under the Geneva Convention, which says that captured soldiers cannot be subjected to physical mutilation or other inhumane treatment. “And they should be held responsible for those crimes they have committed. Those crimes have to be investigated,” he added. “The only thing that is clear is that they have committed crimes.”
Earlier this month, a court in the pro-Russia Donetsk People’s Republic sentenced two British citizens and one Moroccan national to death for working as “mercenaries” on behalf of Ukraine, according to CNN.
Though the United States has not sent military personnel to fight in the conflict, the Biden administration has provided extensive supplies to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Last week, President Joe Biden vowed another $1 billion in weapons and ammunition, as well as $225 million in humanitarian aid. The latest batch of supplies follows $40 billion and $7 billion packages.
“If this gift to Ukraine passes, our total aid to Ukraine will almost equal the entire military budget of Russia,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said of the $40 billion provision last month. “And it’s not as if we have that money lying around, we will have to borrow that money from China to send it to Ukraine.”