A pair of former U.S. servicemen who volunteered for the Ukraine war effort have reportedly been captured by Russian forces near the city of Kharkiv during an "absolutely crazy" mission.
Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27, were allegedly manning a rocket-propelled grenade launcher when Russian tanks rolled up on a 10-man Ukraine army squad last Thursday in the village of Izbytske, 30 miles northeast of Kharkiv, the U.K.'s Telegraph reported Wednesday.
"We are aware of unconfirmed reports of two U.S. citizens captured in Ukraine," the State Department told The Telegraph.
"We are closely monitoring the situation and are in contact with Ukrainian authorities. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment."
Drueke is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and, his mother said, was suffering from PTSD and struggling to hold a job before volunteering for the Ukrainian war effort.
"The U.S. Embassy have assured me that they are doing everything they can to find him and that they are searching for him alive, not dead," Lois Drueke told The Telegraph. "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."
Huynh is a U.S. Marine veteran who reportedly joined the Ukrainian war effort in April.
They are believed to be the first U.S. veterans as prisoners of Russia's war in Ukraine, joining a trio of Britons who have been captured, according to the report: Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner, and Andrew Hill.
Aslin and Pinner were reportedly declared "mercenaries" last week and sentenced to death by a court in the pro-Russian Donetsk People's Republic.
Getting the two American veterans returned will be a difficult issue, particularly as Russia might leverage them for sanctions relief from the Biden administration, The Telegraph reported.
"We were out on a mission and the whole thing went absolutely crazy, with bad intel," a source serving with the two Americans told The Telegraph. "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 10-man squad."
The Americans hit a BMP3 with an RPG before a T72 tank fired in their direction, potentially knocking them unconscious, the source added.
"Everybody took cover waiting for one of the tanks to hit the anti-tank mine, but Alex and Andy saw a BMP3 coming from another direction through the woods and realized that it would kill most of us," the source told The Telegraph. "They opened fire and took it out with their first shot."
It is believed the Russian forces captured Drueke and Huynh.
"It was all very chaotic, but we suspect that they were knocked unconscious by either the blast from the tank shooting at them, or from the anti-tank mine blowing up, because later search missions found not a sign of them," the source told The Telegraph.
"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."
A Russian Telegram post reported the capture of two Americans that night.
"Z group have scored some success in the Kharkiv destination for the last two days," the post read. "We have taken hostage 10-20 Ukrainian soldiers and also today two American mercenaries."
The source denied being mercenaries for the Ukraine army.
"It is too much of a coincidence for that to have happened otherwise — we are the only Americans fighting in this area," the source told The Telegraph of the Telegram post.
"We are not mercenaries, or part of some militia. We are serving under the command of the Ukrainian armed forces. I am speaking out on my missing comrades' behalf, because I want it in the public domain that they are missing, so that the Russian high command is made aware too.
"That hopefully reduces the chances of them being quietly executed by whoever is holding them further down the chain."
Drueke went to Ukraine to help train its army for combat, his mother told The Telegraph.
"Alex felt strongly that Mr. (Vladimir) Putin needed to be stopped; it would lead to another world war," she said. "He said that knew how to train people and could do his small part.
"I was worried about him going out there, but once he was out there he sounded happy for the first time in years. He liked being back in the military world with a sense of purpose, and he said he had fallen in love with Ukraine."
Huynh had no combat experience from his four years in the Marines, but volunteering to help Ukraine was "gnawing" at him, his fiancée Joy Black told The Telegraph.
"He said to me: 'They are attacking with 60 battalions, do you know how much that is?'" Black told The Telegraph. "At first I didn't really take him seriously, but he was reading all these stories about young Ukrainian men having to fight as soon they turned 18, and he felt he should try to help.
"I tried to persuade him not to go, but I think his mind was made up. I could see how it was gnawing at him. Eventually, he apologized to me and said he really had to go."
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