Live updates: Russia’s war in Ukraine
Two Americans fighting alongside Ukrainian forces north of Kharkiv in Ukraine have been missing for nearly a week and there are fears that they may have been captured by Russian forces, according to their families and a fellow fighter.
The men are Alexander John-Robert Drueke, age 39, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, age 27, from Hartselle, Alabama.
A man who wished to remain nameless for security reasons, who is acting as the team’s sergeant, provided CNN with photos of both men’s passports and their entry stamps into Ukraine.
The man said that their unit was fighting under the command of Ukraine’s 92nd mechanized brigade on June 9, near the town of Izbytske.
He said that Drueke and Huynh went missing during the battle, and subsequent search missions failed to find any remains. A post the following day on a Russian propaganda channel on Telegram claimed that two Americans had been captured near Kharkiv.
“It was absolute chaos,” he told CNN. “There was about a hundred plus infantry advancing on our positions. We had a T72 firing on people from 30, 40 meters away.”
Bunny Drueke, Alex’s mother, told CNN that “they are presumed to be prisoners of war, but that has not been confirmed.” She said that the US Embassy to Ukraine has not been able to verify whether her son has been captured.
“They have not been able to verify that he’s with the Russians. All that they can verify is that he is missing at this point,” she said. “They stay in close touch with me, and I have every confidence that they are working on the situation.”
Joy Black, Huynh’s fiancé, age 21, told CNN: “We don’t want to make assumptions about what might have happened at this time. Obviously, they’re looking at several scenarios. And one of them is that they might have been captured. But we don’t have absolute confirmation of that at this time.”
Both Bunny Drueke and Black told CNN that their last communication with their loved ones was June 8, when the men told them that they would be going offline for a few days, for a mission.
“It was a pretty normal conversation actually: I told him I was getting food with my friends at our favorite restaurant,” Black said. “And he said, ‘I love you very much.’ And then I said, ‘I’ll be unavailable for two to three days.’ Which I found out was for the operation they were doing.”
They got engaged in March, not long before he left for Ukraine, she said.
“We didn’t know if we wanted to get married or get engaged before he left. And we decided on just getting engaged so that when he came back we could get married and enjoy it and not be apart right after we got married.”
Now, she said, she is “very fragile.”
“Even though not great stuff has happened, I’m still very proud of Andy for being strong.”
Black, too, said that she has “ups and downs.”
“I’m trying to stay calm and brave, because losing everything will not help Alex in the least. So I’m just trying to stay calm.”
What the US is saying: A State Department spokesperson Wednesday said that they “are aware of unconfirmed reports of two US citizens captured in Ukraine.”
“We are closely monitoring the situation and are in contact with Ukrainian authorities,” the spokesperson said. “Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment.”
The White House said it cannot confirm reports regarding the two, National Security Council coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told CNN Wednesday, adding that “if it’s true, we’ll do everything we can to get them safely back home.”
Pressed by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins during Wednesday’s White House briefing, Kirby said the administration will “do the best we can to monitor this and see what we can learn about it,” adding, “that this is an important point in time to remind that we discourage Americans from going to Ukraine and fighting in Ukraine.”
“It is a war zone. It’s combat,” Kirby said. “And if you feel passionate about supporting Ukraine, there’s any number of other ways to do that, that are safer and just as effective. We just — Ukraine is not the place for Americans to be traveling.”
Kirby was unable to say if US President Joe Biden has been briefed on the reports.
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed reporting to this post.