Two American volunteer fighters for Ukraine were taken into detention by Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk after being captured by Russian forces last week, according to Russian state media.
US citizens Alexander John-Robert Drueke, 39, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, from Hartselle, Alabama, were interviewed by Russia’s RT channel at a detention center in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) on Friday, according to a report published on RT.
Missing near Kharkiv: The two Americans went missing on June 9 during a battle north of Kharkiv and it was feared that they may have been captured by Russian forces, according to their families and a fellow fighter.
Video appearances: On Friday, short video clips surfaced on pro-Russian channels and social media appearing to show the men detained at an unknown location. At the time it was not clear who was holding them.
A State Department spokesperson told CNN Friday they “have seen the photos and videos of these two US citizens reportedly captured by Russia’s military forces in Ukraine.”
“We are closely monitoring the situation and our hearts go out to their families during this difficult time,” they said.
“We are in contact with Ukrainian authorities, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and with the families themselves…Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment on these cases.”
Separately, a more than 50-minute edited video was published on Saturday of Drueke and Huynh being interviewed by HelmCast, a pro-Russian Serbian nationalist YouTube channel.
Donetsk: In the interview, a man can be heard behind the camera revealing the location of his interview when he says “here in Donetsk” during a question to Drueke.
Beaten while in detention: Drueke is also asked in the interview if he has any objections to how he has been treated since his capture and he reveals that he has been beaten a few times.
Why their location is significant: The location of Drueke and Huynh’s detention is a potentially concerning development. Russia has a moratorium on the death penalty, whereas Donetsk uses firing squads to execute condemned prisoners, according to Russian state media RIA Novosti.
Foreign fighters: On June 9, a court in DPR sentenced foreign fighters, two British citizens and a Moroccan national to death after accusing them of being “mercenaries” for Ukraine. The internationally unrecognized court in DPR said the men had a month to appeal.
Prisoner swap dashed: Hopes that a prisoner exchange between Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists could free any foreign fighters detained in Donetsk were dashed after Denis Pushilin, the self-proclaimed head of DPR, said such exchanges were out of the question.
“The exchange of the British men sentenced to death in the DPR is not under discussion, there are no grounds for pardoning them,” Pushilin told independent Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta on Thursday.
The Donetsk People’s Republic did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the detention of Drueke and Huynh.
CNN is choosing not to broadcast the videos of US detainees because they show the men speaking under duress.