Two American military veterans — Andy Huynh, 27, and Alexander Drueke, 39 — who have been fighting against Russian forces in Ukraine have been captured in the Donbas region and are being helped captive by Russian troops.
Since the very beginning of the war, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged foreign fighters to come to Ukraine to assist the country in its resistance against the Russian army. Putin has also made sure to specifically target these forces, which has resulted in desertions after cruise missiles struck training facilities dedicated to foreign fighters.
Huynh and Druek answered Zelensky’s call to engage in mercenary combat, which is not protected by the Geneva Conventions.
Although both men are veterans, only Drueke had prior combat experience. The pair was part of a ten-man squad that ran into Russian forces near the village near Kharkiv. The squad was engaged by enemy armor and Huynh and Drueke were captured in the ensuing fight.
Russia has made a point of labeling foreign fighters as mercenaries, rather than prisoners of war (POW). This is an important distinction. POWs receive the protections of the Geneva convention, while Russia argues mercenaries do not.
A pair of British nationals, captured in the siege of Mariupol, have also been labeled mercenaries. They are being held by Russian separatists in the region, and have been sentenced to death by firing squad. For the moment, the two men have not been executed.
Western authorities are hoping that they are exchanged for Russian POWs. Their execution is not an idle threat, however. Doing so rather than an exchange would discourage foreign fighters from joining the foreign legion.
Although they have not been tried in a court proceeding, it is likely that Drueke and Huynh will be sentenced similarly.
There have also been reports of a third American in Russian custody, Grady Kurpasi. It is unclear If Kurpasi was captured in the same battle or in a different engagement.
The State Department has publicly issued a statement that it is following the situation closely. President Biden has made statements for Americans not to travel to Ukraine in order to join the fight. It is unknown exactly how many Americans are in Ukraine.