2 U.S. Veterans Who Traveled to Help Defend Ukraine Are Feared Captured, Families Say

·4 min read
Alexander J. Drueke and Andy Huynh both US Army Verterans Missing
Alexander J. Drueke and Andy Huynh both US Army Verterans Missing

Alexander J. Drueke/Facebook; Courtesy the Black Family Alexander J. Drueke and Andy Huynh

After volunteering to help defend Ukraine against Russia's invasion, two Americans have gone missing and are feared captured.

The worried families of Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, and Alexander Drueke, 39, who traveled to Ukraine after witnessing Russia's brutal attack on the sovereign country, have reached out to Alabama's congressional delegation in hopes of locating their loved ones.

Press aides for the delegation confirmed on Wednesday that the whereabouts for both men are currently unknown.

Rep. Robert Aderholt from Alabama said Huynh had volunteered to fight alongside the Ukrainian army, yet his relatives had not been in contact with him since June 8. The representative also stated Huynh was last heard from when he was in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine, the current epicenter of the war and an area that has been plagued by consistent Russian artillery attacks for weeks. It also sits close to the Russian border.

An aide to Aderholt confirmed that Huynh and Drueke were together when they were last heard from.

Rep. Terri Sewell from Alabama's 7th congressional district posted in a series of tweets Wednesday night that Drueke's mother contacted her office earlier in the week after not hearing from her son for several days. The rep said that her office and the entire Alabama congressional delegation is joining forces with the FBI and the State Department to obtain more information about Drueke's location and to provide answers for his family.

"As we work to determine his whereabouts, please join me in praying for Alexander and his family during this incredibly difficult time," the congresswoman posted on Twitter.

RELATED: First Lady of Ukraine Opens Up About War in Exclusive Robin Roberts Interview: 'Don't Get Used to Our Pain'

The mother of Huynh's fiancée, Darla Joy Black, posted on Facebook that their family was talking with Drueke's family as well as officials in the government, and also asked for prayer.

"Please keep Andy, and Alex, and all of their loved ones in prayer. We just want them to come home," she wrote.

The U.S. State Department confirmed it was investigating reports that two American citizens had possibly been captured by Russian or Russian-backed forces in Ukraine. If the reports are accurate, they would be the first known Americans to have been captured since the vicious fighting began on Feb. 24, and the news could initiate a prisoner exchange between the White House and Moscow.

In a press conference Thursday afternoon, a spokesperson for the State Department did mention that an additional person is believed to have gone missing in recent weeks after traveling to Ukraine to "take up arms," but he did not reveal the person's identity or anything further about their circumstances, saying that "unfortunately we don't know the full details of that case."

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer.

The coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council in the White House and former press secretary for the Pentagon, John Kirby, said he could not apply veracity to reports about missing Americans on Wednesday.

"We'll do the best we can to monitor this and see what we can learn about it," Kirby remarked in a statement.

Kirby also strongly warned Americans contemplating joining the fight to repel Russia's invasion, saying, "If you feel passionate about supporting Ukraine, there's any number of ways to do that that are safer and just as effective."

This handout photograph released by Ukrainian State Emergency Service on May, 8, 2022, show Ukrainian firefighters putting out a fire after Russian missiles hit a school in eastern Ukraine's Lugansk region on May, 7, 2022. - Sixty civilians died in the bombing of a school in eastern Ukraine's Lugansk region this weekend, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on May, 8, 2022. "Just yesterday in the village of Bilogorivka, Lugansk region, a Russian bomb killed 60 people. Civilians," Zelensky said during an address to the G7 summit by video conference. (Photo by Handout / Ukrainian State Emergency Service / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / Ukrainian State Emergency Service" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo by HANDOUT/Ukrainian State Emergency Servic/AFP via Getty Images)
This handout photograph released by Ukrainian State Emergency Service on May, 8, 2022, show Ukrainian firefighters putting out a fire after Russian missiles hit a school in eastern Ukraine's Lugansk region on May, 7, 2022. - Sixty civilians died in the bombing of a school in eastern Ukraine's Lugansk region this weekend, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on May, 8, 2022. "Just yesterday in the village of Bilogorivka, Lugansk region, a Russian bomb killed 60 people. Civilians," Zelensky said during an address to the G7 summit by video conference. (Photo by Handout / Ukrainian State Emergency Service / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / Ukrainian State Emergency Service" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo by HANDOUT/Ukrainian State Emergency Servic/AFP via Getty Images)

HANDOUT/Ukrainian State Emergency Servic/AFP via Getty Ukraine school bombing

RELATED: Drone Pilot Heads to Ukraine to Rescue Pets Trapped in War Zone: 'My Scariest Mission So Far'

An imperative political and diplomatic precedent of foreigners joining Ukraine's Armed Forces in their war is the Geneva Convention, which protects combatants and grants them prisoner-of-war status that are immune to repercussions for participating in hostilities. Russia has challenged this and said they would perceive foreigners entering the conflict as mercenaries and thus will be treated as such.

Russia recently made good on their threats when a court in Donetsk, a region under separatist control, sentenced two men from Britain and a Moroccan man to death last week for participating in the war. The court alleged the three were acting as mercenaries in the war and attempted to violently undermine the peaceful government in the area.

RELATED: U.N. Envoy Angelina Jolie Outlines What Constitutes 'War Crimes' amid International Conflicts

Huynh cited the fact that 18 year olds were being drafted into the Ukrainian Army as the primary reason he volunteered, and acknowledged that 'it wasn't my problem' but that it 'broke my heart.' His remarks came in his local newspaper, The Decatur Daily, before flying to the war-torn country in April.

Huynh enlisted in the Marines when he was 19 but was not involved in any active combat. He was born and raised in California, and moved to Alabama two years ago to be with his fiancée, the paper reported.

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.