WASHINGTON, June 15 (Reuters) – The White House on Wednesday urged Americans not to travel to Ukraine after reports emerged that two Americans had been captured by Russian forces.
John Kirby, a National Security Council spokesperson, told reporters that if the reports are true, the United States “will do everything we can” to get them back.
Alexander Drueke, 39, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Andy Huynh, 27, of Hartselle, Alabama, were last in contact with their families on June 8 and did not return from a mission around the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine.
Reports that the two men have been taken prisoners of war by Russia are unconfirmed, the families and a U.S. State Department spokesperson said.
“What we know officially at this point from the State Department is that Andy and Alex are missing,” Joy Black, Andy’s fiancee, said by phone.
“We do not have confirmation for anything beyond that. Obviously the longer the search goes the more we start to consider other scenarios,” she added.
Russia’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
If the pair have been captured, they would be the first confirmed U.S. citizens to have been taken as prisoners of war in the conflict that began on Feb. 24 with Russian President Vladimir Putin ordering an invasion of its neighbor.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said that if the reports are true, the United States “will do everything we can” to get them back.
Last week, two British citizens and a Moroccan were sentenced to death by a separatist court in the unrecognized Russian-speaking Donetsk People’s Republic after being caught fighting for Ukraine.
Lois Drueke, Alexander’s mother, said she had been in contact with the U.S. Embassy for Ukraine, located in Poland, who were searching for the pair.
Both men had told their families on June 8 they would be going offline for a few days, but did not provide details, for fear of their communications being intercepted.
Drueke served two tours in Iraq, the last as a lead gunner in Baghdad in 2008-09, his mother said. Huynh is a former U.S. marine who left the service in 2018, his fiancee said.
They said the men did not know each other before meeting in Ukraine, but both felt compelled to support the government after seeing pictures of civilian casualties as Russia retreated from towns outside Kyiv in late March.
“When Andy saw this footage coming out of Ukraine he said he couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, was just consumed by the horror that these innocent civilians were going through,” said Black.
Russia denies attacking civilians and has accused Western citizens of acting as “mercenaries”, saying Western support for Kyiv is dragging out the conflict and leading to more casualties.
“As a mother of course I didn’t want my child in harm’s way,” Lois Drueke said. “But I knew that it was really important to Alex, he wanted a purpose to his life and he felt that this was good and noble.”