Alexander Drueke, veteran missingi in Ukraine, is alive, family says

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A former US soldier who disappeared in Ukraine is alive, family members said Friday, citing a new video circulating online after it is believed he was taken captive by Russian forces.

Former Army Staff Sgt. Alexander Drueke disappeared this month near the northeastern city of Kharkiv, not far from the Russian border, and had traveled to Ukraine to teach Ukrainian forces how to use American-made weapons, family members said.

In a brief video, he addressed his mother, Lois Drueke: “Mom, I just want to let you know that I’m alive and that I hope to be back home as soon as I can be,” he said. “Love Diesel for me. Love you.”

Diesel is a dog that the Drueke family rescued, said Drueke’s aunt, Dianna Shaw.

Drueke is among a number of US veterans who have traveled to Ukraine to join or assist the Ukrainian military as it attempts to hold back the Russian invasion that began Feb. 24. The US government has discouraged Americans from going to Ukraine, citing security concerns and the limited ability of US officials to help if something goes wrong.

Ukraine war volunteers are coming home, reckoning with difficult fight

Drueke, wearing a long-sleeve T-shirt and camouflage trousers, appeared in the video on the same day that the Kremlin-controlled media outlet RT reported that he and another American, former Marine Cpl. Andy Tai Huynh, surrendered to Russian forces after they were abandoned by Ukrainian commanders.

RT noted that “the stakes for Drueke and Huynh are high,” citing a recent decision by a court in a region of Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists to sentence two foreign fighters from Britain and one from Morocco to death.

Drueke and Huynh are both quoted as disparaging Ukrainian forces in the RT article: Drueke warned other US veterans to “think really long and hard about why you’re doing it and what can happen” if they travel to join Ukrainian forces, while Huynh said he grew disenchanted with corruption in the Ukrainian military.

Shaw, Drueke’s aunt, said no one should take what Drueke says seriously in the RT interviews, and that “everyone knows it’s propaganda.”

“It says that they found the Ukrainian army disorganized and incompetent, and that they hated Ukraine,” said Drueke’s mother, Lois “Bunny” Drueke. “And that’s not true at all.”

Huynh’s family also have seen videos that appear to show him and Drueke, said Huynh’s fiancee, Joy Black.

“I won’t comment directly on the video but we continue to pray for the safe return of both Andy and Alex and we’re so thankful for all the help and support that we’ve been receiving in the effort to bring them home, Black said.

Ukrainian forces have continued to communicate with the Drueke family about their missing loved one, Shaw said.

“They have been scouring social media trying to find any clues, as well as scouring the land and sending out drones,” she said. “And as they’re finding things, they’re sending them to us, and we’re sending them on to the State Department. Sometimes, the State Department has them already. A lot of things are moving really fast.”

A third American veteran — former Marine Corps officer Grady Kurpasi — went missing in Ukraine in April and was first identified this week.

A fourth US veteran, Willy Joseph Cancel, was killed in May.

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