BIRMINGHAM, Alabama. – Alex Drueke and Andy Huynh are both military veterans from Alabama, so it was only natural that they bond when they met Ukrainewhere each traveled individually to help defend democracy against Russian invaders.
“They became friends,” Dianna Williams, Drueke’s aunt, said in an interview Thursday.
Both men are now absence after her group came under heavy fire on June 9 in the Kharkiv region of north-eastern Ukraine near the Russian border, leaving her family at home anxiously awaiting information on her whereabouts. The two families are in contact.
“The waiting is the hard part, but we always knew it was a possibility,” Williams said.
The US State Department said it is investigating reports that Russian or Russian-backed separatist forces have captured at least two American citizens. If true, they would be the first Americans fighting for Ukraine known to have been captured since the beginning of the war.
Williams said it’s possible the two were just keeping a low profile: She noted that Drueke, 39, had extensive training and experience during two deployments to Iraq, while Huynh, 27, served four years in the US Marines .
“They know how to dodge,” she said. “Maybe they do just that.”
Russia has not confirmed any information about the men. The President of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic Denis Pushilin said on Thursday, according to the Interfax news agency, “until now I have no such information and cannot comment on it”. Pushilin spoke while attending the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.
Huynh’s fiancé, Joy Black, said she received a message from a soldier telling her both men had missed their rendezvous point and were in an area that had been hit “rather hard”. Black, speaks in an interview WAY TV, said she ran into her mother’s room and fell on the bed sobbing.
“I’m trying to stay strong for him to spread that word and try to bring him home. I’m not going to lie and say it wasn’t really, really hard,” Black said.
It is unclear how many American have traveled overseas to help Ukraine since fighting began in February, but their numbers are believed to be in the hundreds, if not more.
Army veteran Harrison Jozefowicz, who quit his job as a Chicago police officer and traveled to Ukraine shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, now leads a group called Task Force Yankee, helping to put volunteers into combat positions and coordinate supplies. Several hundred Americans serve in the International Legion for the Defense of Ukraine, he said, and more help outside the force.
“In the world of volunteers, the people who are here for the long haul dig in and get serious — they buy warehouses, set up permanent logistics routes with dedicated drivers,” he said Thursday.
Williams said her nephew enlisted in the army after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at the age of 19 and he believes he can help Ukrainian fighters because of his training and experience with weapons. Drueke considered leaving for a few weeks, she said, and then made up his mind.
“He came up to me and said, ‘I’m going to Ukraine.’ I told him, ‘It makes sense to you,'” she said. “He’s really compelled to defend democracy wherever that means going.”
Huynh moved to northern Alabama from his native California two years ago and lives about 120 miles from Drueke. Before leaving for Europe, Huynh told his local newspaper: The Decatur Dailyhe couldn’t stop thinking about Russia’s invasion.
“I know it wasn’t my problem, but there was this gut feeling that I felt like I had to do something,” Huynh told the newspaper. “Two weeks into the war it just ate at me and it just felt wrong. I lost sleep. … All I could think about was the situation in Ukraine.”
Drueke has no wife or children, his aunt said, and he liked the idea of traveling to help Ukraine so someone with more family connections didn’t have to. He left in mid-April and entered Poland legally before going to the border and being allowed into Ukraine, she said.
Now, Drueke’s loved ones are in contact with the US State Department, Congressional offices, or other places that can help them figure out what’s going on.
And they wait.
“That’s how we lived when he was in Iraq and that’s how we live now,” Williams said.
Rhonda Shafner, Associated Press News Researcher in New York City, contributed to this report.
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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/06/16/us-veterans-missing-in-ukraine-formed-bond-over-background/ US veterans missing in Ukraine have allied against background