Alexander Drueke, in recorded call, details captivity by Russian group

A US veteran captured by Russian forces in Ukraine is being held in solitary confinement but appears hopeful the US government will pursue his release, according to a phone call with his mother recorded last week and provided to The Washington Post by his family.

Friday’s call between Alexander Drueke and his mother, Lois Drueke, offers new insight into the Biden administration’s efforts in what has become a high-stakes showdown with Moscow over US involvement in the war. It was their fifth conversation since Drueke and another U.S. Army veteran, Andy Tai Huynh, were taken into custody in June, his family said. Both men are from Alabama and traveled abroad as volunteers, joining the campaign despite public warnings from senior US officials that it was dangerous and misguided.

A third US citizen, Grady Kurpasi, is missing in Ukraine and fears capture or death, his family said. At least two Americans are said to have died in the fighting.

Drueke and Huynh are being held by members of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, a Russian-backed group based in eastern Ukraine. This has complicated negotiations, their families said, because the organization is not recognized by the US government and has no diplomatic presence.

In a statement, the State Department said it was in contact with “Ukrainian and Russian authorities” regarding the captured Americans. “We seek to learn as much as possible and are in contact with families, he said. “Out of respect for the families’ privacy during this time, we have nothing further to add.”

The Russian Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment. The Kremlin has signaled that it will not extend the protections generally given to prisoners of war for Americans and international volunteers detained in Ukraine, adding to the sense of urgency surrounding these cases.

Family of American missing in Ukraine say US response inadequate

Drueke’s aunt, Dianna Shaw, said that to this day, every conversation between mother and son coincides with separate calls involving US government personnel assigned to her case.

“The pattern is still the same,” Shaw said in an email. “First he calls the State Department, then he calls her. And then she and the State Department immediately talk to each other and compare notes.

It’s clear to the family that Drueke is being closely watched during calls, making conversations scripted and strained, Shaw said. Friday seemed a little less tense, she noted. “This one was more, ‘Hi, Mom. How are you?’ said Shaw.

The call, which the family edited to remove personal details, lasted more than four minutes and highlighted ongoing diplomatic efforts between the US, Britain and Ukraine. Shaw said officials were working to include Drueke and Huynh on a list of prisoners for potential action, such as a negotiated release.

During their conversation on Friday, Lois Drueke made it clear to her son, “It might just take a while.” Their social worker at the State Department, she said, had noted that “they were meeting with ambassadors and teams from Ukraine and also from the UK to discuss British prisoners and all of you, and you and Andy were on the agenda.”

Drueke, 39, and Huynh, 27, were captured by Russian forces outside the city of Kharkiv, near Ukraine’s northeast border. Drueke’s family maintains that he went abroad to train Ukrainian troops in American weapons, not to engage in combat. Huynh took up arms, according to his fiancée’s family, in addition to training Ukrainian troops and bringing in medical supplies.

Drueke provided little information during Friday’s phone call with her mother. “I’m fine. No real danger right now,” he said, before offering that he had seen Huynh the day before when they spoke with a lawyer.

When Lois Drueke asked her son if he was still being held in solitary confinement, he said, “Yes ma’am. I’m always in the same place” and acknowledged that the size of the room presented challenges for everyday life. It’s big enough to exercise in, he said, but it’s been hard “to find little things to think about, just, you know, [to] fill the boredom.

He said the State Department official assigned to his case did not convey “any concrete news” when they last conversation, and he asked his mother if she had been informed of “new steps or progress”. In response, she revealed planned meetings between senior officials from the US, UK and Ukrainian governments.

Drueke expressed his gratitude for the efforts of others on his behalf.

Hunyh still has not spoken with US officials or his family, his fiancée Joy Black said.

“We don’t know the reason,” said Darla Black, mother of Joy Black, who described Hunyh as her “bonus son” who won over the family with his humor and empathy.

Ukrainian war volunteers return home, counting on a tough fight

Drueke’s calls revealed information about the thinking of his captors, Shaw said. They seem proud to detain the Americans, and she said she suspects they’ve coached her on what to say. In one instance, when his mother asked him what he ate, he answered “food” and gave other vague answers to simple questions, she said.

The families of the two men have insisted that their captors treat them in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, which offer prisoners of war protection from torture, summary execution and prosecution for having fought in an armed conflict, and they would like to see the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit them and assess their condition.

The Kremlin described Drueke and Huynh as unprotected mercenaries, suggesting they could be sentenced to death.

Their captivity underscored the diplomatic standoff between Washington and Moscow since Russia invaded Ukraine, and the challenges President Biden and his administration face in trying to secure the men’s release.

In the face of mounting public pressure, Biden has expressed personal interest in the case of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was arrested in Russia for drug trafficking, and that of Paul Whelan, a convicted US Marine Corps veteran. by a Russian court to 16 years in prison. on espionage charges which he denied.

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