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Two US Army veterans who went missing in Ukraine last week appeared on a Russian TV newscast telling their relatives that Russian separatists had captured them.
The footage released by Russian news outlet RT on Friday was the first time the missing men, Alex Drueke and Andy Huynh, both from Alabama, had been seen since their disappearance on June 9.
“Mom, I just want to let you know that I’m alive and hope to be home as soon as possible,” Drueke said in the footage.
During the video, he is seen giving his mother a quick wink and telling her to take care of her dog. “So love Diesel for me. I love you,” he added.
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Dianna Shaw, Drueke’s aunt, said the video recording included a secret word and gesture they had discussed during his previous tours of Iraq, verifying his identity and letting him know he was fine.
RT broadcast the report in English, saying the two Americans were separated from their group when they approached a Russian patrol and surrendered. Russian-backed separatist forces are holding the men, the report added.
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Drueke previously served in the US Army, which included two tours in Iraq. Huynh previously served in the US Marines.
Neither the United States nor the Russian government has confirmed that any American men were being held.
Previously, the US government had declared that all Americans captured in Ukraine should be considered prisoners of war and therefore protected as combatants under the generic conventions. Russian military officials, however, said international fighters would be considered mercenaries and would not enjoy those protections.
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On Friday, President Joe Biden was asked by a reporter about missing Americans.
“I don’t know where they are and I want to be clear: Americans shouldn’t go to Ukraine,” the president replied. “I repeat, Americans should not go to Ukraine.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.