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June 17, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

Speaking exclusively to CNN’s Sam Kiley, a former US serviceman fighting with Ukrainian forces recounted the battle he witnessed on June 9 where American volunteer fighters Alexander John-Robert Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh were reportedly captured by Russian forces. 

The man, who asked to be identified with the code name “Pip,” said his team was sent out on a mission east of Kharkiv where a full scale Russian armored assault was underway.

Drueke and Huynh fired a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) at a BMP vehicle that was coming through the woods and destroyed it. But the team had to quickly withdraw as more than 100 Russian infantry began advancing and the American fighters found themselves in a village they previously thought was in Ukrainian hands. 

When asked about what happened to Drueke and Huynh, Pip said that “we suspect they were knocked out by either the T-72 tank shooting at them or by the blast of the mine. This is only speculation we don’t know what really happened to them.” 

A photo of the two men emerged Thursday with their hands tied behind their back and in the back of a Russian truck. 

“I know for a fact that Andy and Alex did not come here for money, they did not come here for glory. They came here with a firm belief that Ukraine as a blossoming democracy needs help,” Pip told Kiley during the interview.

“As far as I’m aware, we’re paid about the same if not exactly the same as a Ukrainian soldier who is on the front… And money is certainly not my motivation for being here. And I know that it’s not Andy’s and it’s not Alex’s either,” he continued.

More background: On Wednesday, CNN reported that Drueke, 39, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Huynh, 27, from Hartselle, Alabama, had been missing for nearly a week and there were fears that they may have been captured by Russian forces, according to their families and a fellow fighter. Drueke and Huynh had been fighting alongside Ukrainian forces north of Kharkiv.

CNN on Thursday reported a third American whom the State Department had identified as missing in action in Ukraine was US Marine veteran Grady Kurpasi. He served in the US Marine Corps for 20 years, retiring in November 2021.

US President Joe Biden said Friday he has been briefed on the three Americans who have gone missing in Ukraine. In brief remarks to reporters as he left for a weekend on the beach in Delaware, Biden said repeatedly Americans should not travel to Ukraine at this time.

“We don’t know where they are, but I want to reiterate: Americans should not be going to Ukraine now,” Biden said in response to a question from CNN’s MJ Lee at the White House.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the department is in contact with the families of the missing Americans as well as Ukrainian authorities and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The US State Department on Thursday told the family of one of the Americans missing in Ukraine that there is potential evidence Drueke was captured, but could not verify the photo at the time, Bunny Drueke, Alexander’s mother, told CNN.

On Friday, videos surfaced on pro-Russian channels and social media appearing to show Drueke and Huynh detained at an unknown location. It is not clear who is holding them.

Price said Thursday the US was not in contact with Russia about the reportedly captured American citizens because they do not yet have “credible reason” to believe the Russians have captured them and also because Russia has not claimed to have captured them.

On Friday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told CNN that he does not know anything about the two American fighters. CNN has repeatedly reached out to Russia’s ministry of defense for comment but has not yet received a response.

Read more here.

CNN’s Kate Sullivan and Jonny Hallam contributed reporting to this post. 

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