Russian-backed separatists have detained US fighters volunteering for Ukraine in Donetsk after they were captured by Russian forces last week, according to Russian state media.
US nationals Alexander John Robert Drake, 39, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Andy Tay Ngoc Huen, 27, of Hartselle, Alabama, were interviewed by Russia’s RT 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 Americans were lost on June 9 during the Battle of North Kharkiv, and they are feared to have been captured by Russian forces, according to their families and fellow combatants.
Video manifestations: On Friday, short videos appeared on pro-Russian channels and on social media showing the arrested men in an unknown location. At the time it was not clear who was holding them.
A State Department spokesperson told CNN on Friday that they had “viewed photos and videos of these two American citizens who were reportedly captured by Russian military forces in Ukraine.”
“We are closely monitoring the situation and our thoughts are with their families at this difficult time,” they said.
“We are in contact with the 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 50-minute edited video was posted on Saturday of Druk and Hinh giving an interview to HelmCast, a Serbian nationalist, pro-Russian YouTube channel.
Donetsk: In the interview, a man behind the camera can be heard revealing where they met when he said “here in Donetsk” during a question to Drueke.
He was beaten while in detention: Drueke was also asked in the interview if he had any objections to how he had been treated since his arrest and revealed that he had been beaten multiple times.
Why their site is important: Drueke and Huynh’s detention site is a worrying development. Russia has a moratorium on the death penalty, while Donetsk uses death squads to execute convicted prisoners, according to Russian state media RIA Novosti.
Foreign fighters: On June 9, a court in the Democratic Republic of the Congo sentenced foreign fighters, British nationals and a Moroccan national to death after accusing them of being “mercenaries” of Ukraine. The court, which is not internationally recognized in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said the men had a month to appeal.
Intermittent prisoner exchange: Hopes that a prisoner exchange between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists would lead to the release of any foreign fighters held in Donetsk were dashed after Denis Pushlin, president of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said such exchanges were out of the question.
“The exchange of British men sentenced to death in the DRC is not under discussion, and there are no grounds for pardoning them,” Pushlin told the 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 Druki and Huynh.
CNN chooses not to broadcast the videos of the American detainees because they show the men speaking under duress.