The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

U.S. veterans missing in Ukraine, feared captured, families say

Alexander J. Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh, both of Alabama, went missing near the Russian border, loved ones say

Ukrainian troops confer near the city of Kharkiv on June 8. (Maria Senovilla/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
Placeholder while article actions load

Two U.S. military veterans have gone missing in Ukraine, and it is feared they have been captured by Russian forces, family members of the missing Americans said Wednesday.

Alexander J. Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Huynh, 27, both of Alabama, went missing in the last few days near Kharkiv, a Ukrainian city not far from the Russian border, according to their families. Drueke had served in the U.S. Army and Huynh is a Marine Corps veteran, they said.

In phone interviews, both families shared similar accounts in which the men had contacted them June 8 to say they would be unreachable during a multiday mission. Neither has been heard from since, they said.

Drueke’s mother, Lois Drueke, said she received a phone call Monday from another U.S. citizen who indicated he was in Ukraine with her son. The caller, whom she did not identify, told her that intercepted communications suggested Russian forces had detained two Americans, she said.

The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ukraine war volunteers are coming home, reckoning with difficult fight

Alexander Drueke had told family that he was teaching Ukrainian troops how to use American-made weapons, his mother said.

“Alex felt very strongly that he had been trained in ways that he could help the Ukrainians be strong and push [Russian President Vladimir] Putin back,” Lois Drueke said. “He went over there not to fight, but to train.”

Joy Black, who identified herself as Huynh’s fiancee, said he had volunteered to fight alongside Ukrainian forces. She received a phone call Monday also from someone appearing to be American who told her that Huynh was missing.

“The response that we’ve gotten from our government has been very helpful,” Black said. “They have been taking it very seriously. We got the call on Monday morning, and this has just gone up so high, so quickly.”

News of the Americans’ disappearance was first reported Wednesday by the Telegraph of London. The State Department said the Biden administration, which has discouraged Americans from joining the war effort, was “aware of unconfirmed reports of two U.S. citizens captured in Ukraine” but declined to comment further.

“We are closely monitoring the situation and are in contact with Ukrainian authorities,” the statement said. “ … We also once again reiterate U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict and the singling out of U.S. citizens in Ukraine by Russian government security official.”

Speaking to the media Wednesday afternoon, White House spokesman John Kirby said he had no information to share about the missing Americans or whether the U.S. government believes they have been taken captive.

The situation creates another challenging scenario for the United States in its diplomacy with Russia. The Kremlin has detained other Americans for months or years, including WNBA star Brittney Griner and Marine Corps veteran Paul Whelan. Another American held by Russia, Marine Corps veteran Trevor Reed, was set free in a prisoner exchange in April.

It’s unclear how many Americans have joined the war. Soon after the conflict began in late February, Ukrainian officials said about 4,000 had expressed interest in doing so.

At least one American citizen, Marine Corps veteran Willy Joseph Cancel, 22, has been killed in action.

American killed in Ukraine was a volunteer, fellow fighters say

As a soldier, Drueke deployed to Kuwait from December 2004 to December 2005, and to Iraq from November 2008 to July 2009, Army spokeswoman Heather Hagan said. He served as a chemical operations specialist in the Army Reserve from 2002 to 2014, leaving as a staff sergeant, Hagan said. Drueke had struggled with post-traumatic stress since leaving the military but seemed to find purpose in the mission in Ukraine, his mother said.

Huynh served in the Marine Corps for four years, including on the Japanese island of Okinawa, his fiancee said. He was an engineer equipment operator and left the service as a corporal in 2018, the Marine Corps said in a statement.

Lois Drueke said she last spoke with her son by phone on June 5, and then received a message three days later on the encrypted communications platform Signal. His message said he would be “going dark” and unreachable for a few days, and that he would be in contact again after completing an assignment.

Alice Crites and Missy Ryan contributed to this report.

correction

A previous version of this article, citing Alexander Drueke’s family, said incorrectly that while in the U.S. Army, Drueke had deployed twice to Iraq. His official military records show he deployed once to Iraq and once to Kuwait. The article has been corrected.

Loading...