Two American fighters have been taken as prisoners of war in Ukraine, the first since the conflict began.
Robert Drueke and Andy Huynh were taken prisoner by Russian forces last week on the outskirts of Kharkiv, according to sources cited by The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday.
Drueke, 39, and Huynh, 27, are both from Alabama. One of their comrades described losing sight of the pair in a battle last week.
Drueke served in the US Army in Iraq whereas Huynh, a former Marine, has never been in active combat before.
He rushed to Ukraine in April after watching the invasion from afar, saying before he left that he was ‘at peace’ with the knowledge he may die in the conflict.
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 who spoke to the Telegraph.
‘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. 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,’ the unnamed fighter said.
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.
The State Department said on Tuesday it was ‘aware’ of reports of their capture but a spokesman declined to comment, citing privacy concerns.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Mark A. Milley are scheduled to give a briefing on the conflict in Ukraine this afternoon.
Robert Drueke, 39, (left) and Andy Huynh, 27 (right), were taken prisoner by Russian forces last week on the outskirts of Kharkiv, according to sources cited by The Daily Telegraph 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.
Russian forces claimed that night on the app Telegram to have captured two American soldiers.
I know there’s a potential of me dying. I’m willing to get my life or what I believe is right. For what I’ve been taught is right, through really my eyes, Marine Corps, through God, and really just what is right
Captured former Marine Andy Huynh before he traveled to Ukraine
The State Department and the Pentagon have not yet commented on the capture.
Drueke’s mother in Alabama told the Telegraph she is in contact with the government and hopes they will secure her son’s release.
‘The US embassy have assured me that they are doing everything they can to find him and that they are searching for him alive, not dead.
‘I am doing my best not to fall apart, I am going to stay strong. I am very hopeful that they will keep him to exchange for Russian PoWs,’ she said.
Drueke served in Iraq but had struggled to find work or reintegrate into society after returning from war, his mother said.
Huynh served in the Marines for four years, including on a base in Okinawa, Japan, for two years, but he has never been in active combat before. Huynh’s family have not yet commented on his capture.
Before he flew to the region, he told a local media outlet in his hometown in Hartselle, Alabama: ‘I’ve made peace with the decision.
‘I know there’s a potential of me dying. ‘I’m willing to get my life or what I believe is right. For what I’ve been taught is right, through really my eyes, Marine Corps, through God, and really just what is right,’ he said.
Drueke (left) served in Iraq for the US Army. His mother says he suffered PTSD after the war and struggled to find work after leaving the armed forces. Huynh (right) was in the Marines for four years and spent two years on a base in Japan but he had never been in active combat before he joined the effort in Ukraine
British war prisoners Aiden Aslin (left) and Shaun Pinner (second left) were sentenced to death penalty by Donetsk court on June 9, accused of being foreign mercenaries. They were captured along with a Moroccan fighter (right) in April
This photograph taken on June 11, 2022 shows a Ukrainian BM-21 Grad, a multiple rocket launcher, firing near Izyum, south of Kharkiv, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine. The men were captured in a battle last week, around the same time
Ukrainian artillerymen prepare to fire a BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launcher near Izyum, south of Kharkiv, on June 11, 2022 amid Russian invasion of Ukrain
He grew up in California but moved to Alabama after leaving the Marines in order to be closer to his fiancée, Joy Black, according to a local media report. She has not commented on his capture.
Their captured comes after two Brits were taken prisoner by Putin’s army. Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin have been handed death sentences by a proxy court in eastern Ukraine.
They were captured in April. Now, the pair have been sentenced to death by firing squad.
British officials say they are doing everything they can to get the pair out of Russian custody before they are slaughtered.
Liz Truss, a favorite target of Russian state media, spoke out last week to condemn the sentences which she said had ‘absolutely no legitimacy’ while vowing ‘to do everything we can to support’ the imprisoned pair.
She was mocked on Russian TV by Putin’s associates who said the UK has done nothing to try to intervene in their fate.
The fighting in Ukraine has been relentless since late February when Putin’s army advanced. Above, conflict on February 27 in Kharkiv, where the two US fighters were captured this week