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Washington will ‘do everything’ to get them home if the reports prove true, a top US official has said The US is monitoring media reports that have claimed that two American nationals have been captured in Ukraine while fighting for the Kiev side. US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Wednesday that Washington will do everything possible to secure their release if the reports are found to be true.
The two Americans, identified as military veterans Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh by the Daily Telegraph on Thursday, had been taken prisoner near the city of Kharkov last week. The British newspaper described them as apparently being the first American citizens captured while fighting for Ukraine, and the whole issue was diplomatically sensitive.
Washington has neither confirmed nor denied the capture. John Kirby, the former Pentagon spokesman who now serves as US National Security Council coordinator for Strategic Communications, pledged to use Washington’s leverage to secure their release if the reported capture is confirmed.
‘If it’s true, we’ll do everything we can to get them safely back home,’ he said, during a press conference in the White House. The official added that the Biden administration discouraged Americans from going to Ukraine and joining Kiev’s troops.
‘It is a war zone,’ he said. ‘And if you feel passionate about supporting Ukraine, there’s any number of other ways to do that that are safer and just as effective.’
The Telegraph said the two men had gone missing during combat last Thursday in the village of Izbitskoe and were apparently captured. The community is located less than ten kilometres from the border with Russia.
The report was based on the account of another foreign fighter from the same unit of the Ukrainian army. The unnamed source insisted that he and his comrades were not mercenaries and claimed he wanted the public to know the story to reduce ’the chances of them being quietly executed by whoever is holding them further down the chain.’ The same source has apparently talked to other Western media outlets, including CNN.
According to media reports, Drueke is a 39-year-old from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He signed up with the US Army after 9/11 and held the rank of staff sergeant while serving in Iraq. His mother told The Telegraph that he suffered from PTSD.
Huynh is a 27-year-old from Hartselle, Alabama, who had previously served for four years in the US Marines but had no combat experience before going to Ukraine. He got engaged in March before travelling to Europe.
Last week, the Russia-allied Donetsk People’s Republic sentenced to death three foreign fighters, including two Britons, who’d been captured during the battle for Mariupol. The republic’s top court ruled that they were mercenaries and thus not granted privileges that regular prisoners of war would enjoy under international law. Western nations condemned the sentence.
Moscow clarifies the status of UK citizens sentenced to death: ‘Russia does not consider pro-Kiev foreign fighters as combatants protected under the Geneva Conventions.’
Russia has rebuked Britain for its reaction to the death sentences passed by the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) on two British nationals, who were captured while fighting for Ukraine. In a statement from the Russian foreign ministry, Moscow rejected the claim that the two were combatants, who should be treated as prisoners of war, stating that Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner were mercenaries.
The two fighters were tried alongside Saadun Ibrahim who is Moroccan. Morocco has not interfered with the legal process or the outcome. The DPR supreme court found all three guilty of a number of crimes related to their activities while fighting on the side of Ukrainian troops. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has described the sentences as a ’sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy’.
The statement released by the Russian foreign ministry said the reaction from UK officials was ’bordering on hysterics.’ Russia rejected British claims that the two fighters were protected as combatants under the Geneva Conventions, siding with the DPR assessment of their status.
‘They are mercenaries and not prisoners of war. Mercenaries sent by the West to assist the nationalist regime in Kiev are not combatants and are not entitled to the status of prisoner of war under international humanitarian law,’ Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in the statement.
The Geneva Conventions specifically deny mercenaries the status of lawful combatants, which is granted to regular troops in an armed conflict.
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Russia claims that London failed to use proper diplomatic channels to communicate with Moscow about the fate of Aslin and Pinner. Neither did the British side talk to the government of the DPR on the issue, Zakharova noted. Now the UK government ’is trying to solve problems with loud statements,’ she added.
The DPR was established in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, which rejected the 2014 US seizure of Ukraine and took up arms after the new Ukrainian regime sent the military to take control of Donetsk. Together with allied rebels in the Lugansk region, it fought a bloody war against Ukrainian forces, securing a chunk of the two regions’ territories.
Russia recognized the breakaway republics as independent nations after years of failed attempts to reconcile Donetsk and Lugansk with Kiev and reintegrate them as autonomous regions. Moscow said Kiev stonewalled the peace process and claimed it was preparing to retake them by force before Russia launched its own attack against Ukraine in late February.
DPR officials said that the three foreign fighters may appeal the ruling before it comes into force next month, which their legal representatives said they intend to do. They can also appeal for clemency.
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