‘He is okay, getting food, water and bedding’: Family of Alabama Army vet captured in Ukraine by Russian-backed forces reveals that State Department has spoken to him
- Alexander Drueke’s family say State Department officials have been able to speak to him
- They say the 39 year-old US Army vet is safe and has food as well as bedding and shelter
- Drueke and fellow American Andy Huynh, 27, were captured by Russia while fighting with Ukrainian forces on June 11
- Russia said the men weren’t protected by the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war, and could be executed
- Both men appeared in a hostage video after their capture, but there haven’t been any further updates on Huynh
US State Department officials have finally made contacted with an Army vet captured by Russia while fighting alongside Ukraine – and say he is safe.
Alexander Drueke’s aunt Dianna Shaw confirmed the conversation with The Guardian Tuesday, saying: ‘He is okay. Receiving food and water and has shelter and bedding.’
Family members of Drueke, who comes from Alabama, have spent days trying desperately to find out of he is safe, after Russia shared a video of him post capture, and suggested he could face a firing squad.
Shaw, whose 39 year-old nephew was captured fighting alongside Andy Huynh on June 11, added: ‘We want to believe all these things, and it’s Russia’s responsibility to make sure it’s all true.
‘Having Alex call and say these things tells me that Russia knows the world is watching how they treat (Drueke and Huynh)’.
Drueke, a US Army veteran and Huynh, a 27 year-old former US Marine, were warned by the Kremlin they faced possible execution for being what Putin’s government branded ‘soldiers of fortune.’
The Kremlin said the men were not eligible for the rights afforded to prisoners of war captured by rivals, because they hadn’t enlisted for the foreign army they were fighting with.
Drueke, 39, left, and Andy Huynh, 27, appeared terrified in footage released by Russian forces where they identified themselves and denounced war. They men went missing last week after their platoon in Ukraine was ambushed by Russian soldiers
But Shaw and Drueke’s mother Lois ‘Bunny’ Drueke say they hope global attention on the two prisoners – including from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – will keep them safe.
Bunny said: ‘I want to thank President Zelenskiy for taking their situation seriously.’
Last week, Russia’s US Ambassador declared its embassy has received no communications from the White House regarding two Americans being held captive for fighting in Ukraine.
Anatoly Antonov, the head of the diplomatic mission, made the assertion Tuesday while speaking to journalists from the state-owned Russian News Agency (TASS).
The statement from the ambassador contradicted claims from the US State Department made earlier in the day, that officials had been in talks with the Kremlin about the imprisoned Americans.
Meanwhile, Moscow has said it can not guarantee the lives of Alex Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27, who were captured by state-backed forces during fighting in Kharkiv on June 11.
The men – who are being treated as mercenaries by the state – are believed to still be alive, and recently appeared in videos released to the internet by state-owned media.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, continues to insist that it is doing ‘everything’ possible to bring Drueke and Huynh home safely.
Anatoly Antonov, the head of the diplomatic mission, made the assertion Tuesday while speaking to journalists from the state-owned Russian News Agency (TASS)
Moscow has said it can not guarantee the lives of Alex Drueke (left) and Andy Huynh (right), who were captured by state-backed forces during fighting on June 11. This undated photo of the two was uploaded Thursday – a day before the state released a video of the pair
Antonov, however, says otherwise – according to state media.
‘There were no requests to the embassy. I do not confirm receiving a request of this kind from the US side,’ the ambassador was quoted as saying by TASS.
‘The embassy did not contact us.’
Earlier in the day, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the White House had been ‘in touch’ with Moscow about the captives.
‘We have been in touch with Russian authorities regarding U.S. citizens who may have been captured while fighting in Ukraine,’ Price told reporters around 2:30 pm ET.
He added that the agency had ‘also been in touch with our Ukrainian partners, with the ICRC, with other countries, as well as with the families of Americans who have been reported missing in Ukraine.
‘We have both publicly as well as privately called on the Russian Government and its proxies to live up to their international obligations in their treatment of all individuals, including those captured fighting in Ukraine,’ Price, 39, said.
‘We expect – and in fact, international law and the law of war expects and requires – that all those who have been captured on the battlefield be treated humanely and with respect and consistent with the laws of war.’
Later on in the address, however, Price said that the department had ‘not received any formal or official response’ from the Kremlin regarding the captured pair – who took up arms and flew to Ukraine to join the fight earlier in the year after being outraged over the invasion.
‘We have been in contact with Russian authorities regarding the reports of detained Americans,’ Price said. ‘We have not received any formal or official response.
‘The only response we’ve seen has been the response that Russian officials have made in public interviews.’
When contacted by DailyMail.com, a department spokesperson refused to further comment on the matter.
‘We have nothing to add beyond Ned’s remarks,’ the rep said.
Meanwhile, Russian officials have said that they can not guarantee the safe return of the men, who are both former members of the US Marines.
In an interview with NBC News Monday , Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the pair were not protected by the Geneva Convention – which outlaws taking prisoners of war – because they were not part of the official Ukrainian army.
He pointed out that the actions of the Americans ‘must be investigated and they must be brought to justice.’
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told NBC News when asked if the two US citizens would be given the same death-by-firing-squad sentence that was handed down to British fighters Shaun Pinner, 48, and Aiden Aslin, 28
Peskov did not rule out the possibility that US citizens could be sentenced to capital punishment in the Donetsk People’s Republic.
‘It depends on the investigation,’ Peskov said, when asked if the two US citizens would be given a death sentence for allegedly fighting against Russian forces.
The pair were captured on June 11 during a battle in Kharkiv. They were apprehended by Russian fighters after disabling a tank with grenades, Russian state media has said.
‘They are soldiers of fortune. 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 said.
‘Those guys on the battlefield were firing at our military guys. They were endangering their lives. There will be a court, and there will be a court decision.
‘They should be held responsible for those crimes they have committed. Those crimes have to be investigated…The only thing that is clear is that they have committed crimes.
Huynh, a former Marine from Hartselle, Alabama, was captured in Kharkiv on June 11. Russian officials have said that they can not guarantee his safe return. He had never seen combat before traveling to Ukraine
Unlike Huynh, Drueke, from Tuscaloosa, is an experienced military veteran
He went on: ‘They are not in the Ukrainian army. They are not subject to the Geneva convention.’
‘They should be punished.’
Peskov, who has been labeled one of the country’s most prominent propagandists, would not reveal where the men were being held.
Family members said last week the two Americans – who both hail from Alabama – went to Ukraine as volunteer fighters and had gone missing earlier this month.
Drueke, of Hartselle, served in the US Army in Iraq – but Huynh, who traveled to the region to help after watching the war unfold from afar, had never been in active combat before.
Later that week, Russian state media broadcast images and video of the pair appearing beaten and tired declaring their opposition to the war.
‘My name is Alexander Drueke, I am against war,’ Drueke said. He then reiterates in Russian, ‘Ya protiv voyny,’ meaning ,’I am against war.’
‘Ya protiv voyny,’ Huynh repeats after a quick cut.
Another video shows Drueke addressing his mother, Bunny, as he promises her that he will be back home.
‘Mom, I just wanted to let you know that I’m alive, and I hope to be back home as soon as I can,’ Drueke said. ‘Love you.’
Firefighters work at the site of fire after Russian shelling in Mykolaiv in Ukraine this weekend after the latest bombardment
On Monday, one of the men’s comrades in Ukraine spoke out anonymously to CBS to say he felt guilty for bringing them to the war zone.
‘They sort of followed me out here.
‘We all agreed there was no leader in the group but I definitely feel a bit guilty, without a doubt.
‘We should have taken a closer look at more humanitarian options or training options.
‘If we did, then they wouldn’t be in the situation they’re in,’ he said.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby last week said the US would do ‘everything’ to bring the pair home safely.
He however reiterated that Ukraine was ‘no place for Americans right now’, and he urged anyone considering joining the fight not to go.
The two men’s families are begging the Biden administration to help them.
Bunny Drueke, Alex’s mother, said the latest photos and videos give her hope because her son is still alive.
‘Unmistakably under duress, but thank God they’re alive,’ she said in a previous interview with CBS.
Drueke, who will turn 40 this month, is a former U.S. Army staff sergeant who served two tours in Iraq and who volunteered with the Ukrainian Army.
Huynh, a Marine for four years, had never been in active combat before flying to Ukraine in April to volunteer.
Both of the U.S. fighters are from Alabama, but it remains unclear if they knew each other before they ventured to the war zone.
The pair were part of a ten-man squad defending Kharkiv last week when they were ambushed by Russian soldiers, according to one of their comrades.
Drueke and Huynh disabled a Russian tank with a grenade but were lost in the fog of return fire. By the time it cleared, they had vanished.
‘We were out on a mission and the whole thing went absolutely crazy, with bad intel.
‘We were told the town was clear when it turned out the Russians were already assaulting it.
Both of the U.S. fighters are from Alabama and had disabled a Russian tank with a grenade but were lost in the fog of return fire
‘They came down the road with two T72 tanks and multiple BMP3s (armored fighting vehicles) and about 100 infantry. The only thing that was there was our ten man squad,’ one of their comrades told The Daily Telegraph in an interview on Tuesday.
‘We suspect that they were knocked unconscious by either the anti-tank mine, or by the tank shooting at them, because later search missions found not sign of them, nothing.
‘Afterwards we sent drones up and had a Ukrainian search team on the ground but we found nothing: if they had been hit by the tank shell there would have been remains of their bodies or equipment at the scene,’ he said.
The pair are among a recent flood of onlookers to travel to Ukraine to quell the Russian invasion – some of whom have vanished or been executed by Russian forces.
Among the missing is U.S. Marine veteran Ret. Captain Grady Kurpasi, who left for Ukraine in March, according to CNN.
Firefighters work at the site of fire after Russian shelling in Mykolaiv in Ukraine this weekend after the latest bombardment by Kremlin forces
A couple walk past a building destroyed by attacks in Chernihiv, Ukraine, Monday amid fears of an escalation of the conflict
He has not been heard from since April. No trace of him has been found, sparking fears he may have been killed.
He had been living in Wilmington, North Carolina, before leaving for the eastern European country.
It comes as Stephen Zabielski, 52, was killed in Ukraine in May. He was the second American to die in the conflict
Last month, 52-year-old New Yorker Stephen Zabielski was killed in combat in the region.
New York grandfather, was killed on May 15 while fighting in the village of Dorozhniank, Ukraine.
A friend on Facebook said he had experience in the US Army which appealed to young Ukrainian fighters.
‘He feared he wouldn’t be accepted given our age – but his experience got him the exception. Despite our age, we both knew we had a duty given our beliefs.
‘Steve remained in Ukraine and gave his life for Ukraine’s freedom. He was killed by a landmine. He was the child of Polish-Americans so he knew and understood sacrifice.’
His death comes after that of U.S. Marine Corps veteran Willy Joseph Cancel, 22, who was killed in April.
The two are the only official American casualties in the ongoing conflict, which entered its 119 day Wednesday.