Kremlin denies knowledge of missing US fighters as it seeks to distance itself

Ukraine: Smoke pours from Russian occupied warehouse

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Two American fighters who were fighting alongside Ukrainian forces went missing north of Kharkiv, Ukraine last Thursday, June 9. There are fears the two US nationals may have been captured by Russian forces, according to their families and a fellow fighter.

The men are Alexander John-Robert Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, both from Alabama.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told CNN on Friday he does not know anything about the two fighters.

He said during a media call: “No, we do not know anything about it.”

A photo emerged on the Telegram channel of a Russian blogger on Thursday which appeared to show the two Americans in the back of a military truck.

The image apparently confirmed the pair had been captured by Russian forces.

The two men are pictured looking up at the camera with hands behind their backs as if they are bound.

It was posted on Telegram by a Russian blogger called The V, whose full name is Timofey Vasilyev.

It has not been verified when the photo was taken.

According to Alexander Drueke’s mother, Bunny Drueke, the US State Department said on Thursday that there is potential evidence that Mr Drueke has been captured but it cannot verify the photo at this time.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Thursday that the department is in contact with their families but still could not confirm they had been captured.

He said the US was not in contact with Russia about their case because it does not yet have “credible reason” to believe the Russian have captured them and because the Kremlin has not claimed to have captured them.

Speaking at a press briefing on Thursday, Mr Price said: “If we feel that such outreach through our embassy in Moscow or otherwise would be productive in terms of finding out more information on the whereabouts of these individuals, we won’t hesitate to do that.”

The White House has said it is “working very hard to learn more” about the unverified reports of missing or captured Americans in Ukraine. 

A group of former US and French servicemen tweeted on Wednesday that two Americans fighting with them had been captured a week ago. 

If confirmed, the pair would be the first Americans fighting for Ukraine to have been captured since the war began in February. 

Mr Huynh and Mr Drueke, who are both military veterans, travelled from Alabama to join a Ukrainian volunteer unit, according to US media reports.

The pair went missing during a battle near the town of Izbytske on June 9, according to a man who was acting as the team’s sergeant.

The man, who wished to remain anonymous due to security reasons, provided CNN with photos of both men’s passports and their entry stamps to Ukraine.

He said: “It was absolute chaos. There was about a hundred plus infantry advancing on our positions. We had a T72 firing on people from 30, 40 metres away.”

A post on a Russian propaganda channel on Telegram on June 10 claimed the two US citizens had been captured near Kharkiv.

Subsequent search missions have failed to find evidence of the missing men.

The US State Department also said on Thursday that it was aware of reports that a third American who travelled to Ukraine to fight against Russia had gone missing in “recent weeks”.

Speaking at the briefing on Thursday, Mr Price said: “There are reports of one additional American whose whereabouts are unknown.

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“I can’t speak to the specifics of that case. Unfortunately, we don’t know the full details of that case.”

Bunny Drueke said his son was a “presumed prisoner of war, but that has not been confirmed”.

Mr Drueke’s mother said the US Embassy to Ukraine has not been able to verify whether her son has been captured.

She said: “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.

“They stay in close touch with me, and I have every confidence that they are working on the situation.”

Mr Huynh’s fiancé, Joy Black, 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 women said the last time they had spoken with their loved ones was on June 8, when the men told them both they would be going offline for a mission.

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