Russian state television broadcast video on Friday of two US military veterans who went missing last week while fighting in Ukraine, confirming the men had been taken prisoner and raising fears about their fate.
Alex Drueke and Andy Huynh, both from Alabama, would be the first Americans captured by Russian forces since the war began on February 24.
Drueke, speaking into the camera from what appeared to be an office, texted her mother, ending with a quick wink.
“Mom, I just want to let you know that I’m alive and hope to be home as soon as possible. So love Diesel for me. I love you.” Diesel is his dog, a mastiff.
Her aunt, Dianna Shaw, said the video included both a key word and a gesture that Drueke and her mother put together during one of her two tours of Iraq so she knew it was him well and that he was fine.
Drueke, who served in the US Army, and Huynh, who served in the US Marines, disappeared after their group came under heavy fire in the northeast Kharkiv area on June 9.
Quoting Drueke, the RT television report said the Americans separated from the others and once they were safe they left through the woods, ending up in a village where they were approached by a Russian patrol and surrendered.
RT, which broadcasts in English, said they were being held by Russian-backed separatist forces in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.
Three other foreigners fighting for Ukraine, two Britons and a Moroccan, have been sentenced to death by a separatist-run court in Donetsk, Donbass.
The United States has insisted that anyone captured be treated as a prisoner of war and protected by guarantees of humane treatment and fair trial. But the Russian military has said it views foreigners fighting with Ukraine as mercenaries and says they are not protected as combatants under the Geneva Conventions.
A journalist from the Russian state television channel VGTRK recorded short clips of the two men speaking Russian and saying, “I am against the war.”
There was no official confirmation from the US or Russian government that the Americans were being detained.
The State Department said earlier this week it was reviewing reports that Russian or Russian-backed forces captured two US citizens. He also reiterated his warning that Americans should not travel to Ukraine to fight, a message repeated Friday by President Joe Biden.
Asked about the missing Americans before the Russian videos emerged, Biden said he had been briefed on the situation but offered no further details.
“I don’t know where they are and I want to be clear: Americans shouldn’t go to Ukraine,” Biden said. “I repeat, Americans should not go to Ukraine.”