Editor’s notice: This story has been edited to right the final title of Alex Drueke’s aunt.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Alex Drueke and Andy Huynh are each army veterans from Alabama, so it was pure that they fashioned a bond as soon as they met in Ukraine, the place every traveled individually with the intention of serving to defend democracy in opposition to Russian invaders.
“They grew to become buds,” Dianna Shaw, Drueke’s aunt, mentioned in an interview Thursday.
Both males are actually lacking after their group got here below heavy fireplace within the Kharkiv area of northeastern Ukraine close to the Russian border on June 9, leaving family members at residence anxiously awaiting details about their whereabouts. The two households are in contact.
“The ready is the arduous half, however we all the time knew this was a chance,” Shaw mentioned.
The U.S. State Department mentioned it’s investigating stories that Russian or Russian-backed separatist forces captured no less than two American residents. If true, they might be the primary Americans combating for Ukraine identified to have been captured because the battle started.
Shaw mentioned it’s potential the 2 might simply be mendacity low: She famous that the 39-year-old Drueke had in depth coaching and expertise throughout two excursions in Iraq, whereas Huynh, 27, served 4 years within the U.S. Marines.
“They know the way to evade,” she mentioned. “They could be doing simply that.”
Russia hasn’t confirmed any details about the boys. The president of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, mentioned Thursday that “as of now, I don’t have such data and I can not remark,” in accordance with the Interfax information company. Pushilin spoke whereas attending the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.
Huynh’s fiancee, Joy Black, mentioned she acquired a message from a soldier telling her that each males had missed their rendezvous level and had been in an space that was hit “fairly arduous.” Black, talking in an interview with WAAY-TV, mentioned she ran to her mom’s room and fell on the mattress sobbing.
“I’m attempting to remain sturdy for him to get this phrase out and to attempt to get him again residence. I’m not going to lie and say that it has not been actually, actually arduous,” Black mentioned.
It’s unclear what number of Americans have traveled abroad to help Ukraine since combating started in February however the quantity is believed to be within the tons of, if no more.
Army veteran Harrison Jozefowicz, who stop his job as a Chicago police officer and traveled to Ukraine quickly after Russia invaded, is now serving to place volunteers in fight positions and coordinating provides as head of a bunch known as Task Force Yankee. Several hundred Americans serve within the International Legion of Defense of Ukraine, he mentioned, and nonetheless extra are aiding outdoors the power.
“In the volunteer world, the people who find themselves right here for the lengthy haul are digging in and getting severe — shopping for warehouses, establishing everlasting routes of logistics with devoted drivers,” he mentioned Thursday.
Shaw mentioned her nephew joined the Army at age 19 after the fear assaults of Sept. 11, 2001, and he believed he might assist Ukrainian fighters due to his coaching and expertise with weapons. Drueke contemplated whether or not to go for just a few weeks, she mentioned, after which made up his thoughts.
“He approached me and mentioned, ‘I’m going to go to Ukraine.’ I instructed him, ‘For you, that is sensible,’” she mentioned. “He is basically compelled to defend democracy wherever that meant going.”
Huynh moved to north Alabama two years in the past from his native California and lives about 120 miles (193 kilometers) from Drueke. Before leaving for Europe, Huynh instructed his native newspaper, The Decatur Daily, he couldn’t cease excited about Russia’s invasion.
“I do know it wasn’t my downside, however there was that intestine feeling that I felt I needed to do one thing,” Huynh instructed the paper. “Two weeks after the battle started, it stored consuming me up inside and it simply felt unsuitable. I used to be shedding sleep. … All I might take into consideration was the scenario in Ukraine.”
Drueke doesn’t have a spouse or kids, his aunt mentioned, and he appreciated the concept of touring to assist Ukraine so somebody with extra familial connections wouldn’t need to. He left in mid-April and entered Poland legally earlier than going to the border and being allowed into Ukraine, she mentioned.
Now, Drueke’s family members are in contact with the U.S. State Department, congressional places of work or wherever else that may assist them discover out what’s occurring.
And they’re ready.
“It was how we lived whereas he was in Iraq, and it’s how we reside now,” Shaw mentioned.
Associated Press News Researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York City contributed to this report.