The State Department said Saturday it had reviewed photos and videos appearing to show two Americans captured in Ukraine, although it declined to comment on the authenticity of the images or the condition of the men.
U.S. officials were in contact with the men’s families, Ukrainian authorities and the International Committee of the Red Cross, a State Department spokesperson said.
The Red Cross declined to comment on the case.
The men, Alex Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, were reported missing last week by their families, and the State Department described them on Saturday as “allegedly captured by Russian military forces in Ukrainian”. Both are US military veterans who volunteered to fight in Ukraine.
The Russian government has not publicly commented on this information.
On Friday, short videos purporting to show the two men were posted on YouTube in which they said in Russian: “I am against the war”. It is not known when the videos were recorded or by whom.
Then Russian state broadcaster RT said it interviewed the men, saying they had surrendered to Russian troops and were in a detention center controlled by Russian-backed forces. RT watermarked videos, circulating on social media, showed the men, separately, speaking to someone off-camera about their experiences.
Lois Drueke, Mr Drueke’s mother, said on Saturday that she and other members of her family celebrated after seeing the first of the videos, although it lasted only a few seconds.
“I’ve seen the ones from yesterday again and again,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see him and to see that he’s alive.”
The family were convinced it was Mr Drueke in the videos, based on his “body language, facial expressions, gestures and, most importantly, his melodious voice”, said Dianna Williams, her aunt. The State Department, however, has yet to tell the family whether officials believe the videos are authentic.
Mr Drueke, a former US Army staff sergeant who served two tours in Iraq, had previously warned his mother that if he was ever taken prisoner he might be asked to read a script, said Mrs Williams. She added that the family understood that everything he said had to be taken with a grain of salt.
“After the great relief we felt seeing the videos, we also feel apprehensive as we now know he is in a captive situation,” she said.
Darla Black, the mother of Mr Huynh’s fiancée, Joy Black, said they also felt relief seeing the videos.
“It’s a comfort to hear his voice,” said the eldest, Ms Black. “It’s not a situation we want him to be in, but as long as he’s talking he’s breathing.”
She said the inflection and cadence of the man’s voice in the video was familiar, although they could not be sure it was Mr. Huynh.
Ms Black said the videos reminded her of POW recordings from Vietnam. “Everyone knows that prisoners are not free to say what they think,” she said.
The State Department declined to comment in detail on the case, citing confidentiality concerns. But he repeated a warning President Biden gave on Friday, when he told reporters: “I want to reiterate: Americans should not go to Ukraine now.”
He said the administration did not know where the men were.
Last week, a court in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine sentenced three foreign fighters to death, accusing them, British and Moroccan, of being mercenaries. Western nations condemned the verdict, and legal experts said the trial appeared to be calculated as a warning to foreign volunteers that, if captured, they could be denied the protections given to prisoners of war under the Peace Conventions. Geneva.
The conventions, which govern the law of war and which Russia has signed, specify that captured volunteer combatants can also be considered prisoners of war. The main definition of a mercenary under international law is someone who fights primarily for financial gain and is paid significantly more than the local armed forces.