Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pledged to fight for the safe return of two Americans who were captured by Russian forces in Ukraine, praising them as “heroes.”
Military veterans Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27, were taken prisoner last week during a battle in a village outside Kharkiv in the northeast.
Days later, the captives spoke with the Russian state agency RT from a detention center in Ukraine’s Kremlin-controlled Donbas region, which has been the site of some of the fiercest fighting in the war.
“What can I say? They are heroes, and for me they are the same as Ukrainians because they give the main things they had: their lives,” Zelensky said in an interview as part of the Aspen Ideas Festival, reported NBC News.
Zelensky was not suggesting Drueke and Huynh have been killed, although Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday did not rule out the possibility that the foreign fighters could face the death penalty.
“I’m sure we’ll fight for them and get them back, and of course they will come back to their families,” Zelensky said.
“To me, it is a great honor that in the world there are some soldiers that are not afraid, and they came to support us and our sovereignty and independence.”
In his comments about the Americans, Peskov suggested that international legal protections under the Geneva Convention do not apply to them because they were “soldiers of fortune” and not members of the Ukrainian armed forces.
Drueke, a veteran of the US Army, served in Iraq. His mother told the Telegraph that he had suffered from PTSD and was struggling to hold down a job before going to Ukraine.
Huynh, a former Marine, left to fight in Ukraine in April, according to Alabama ABC affiliate WAAY.
National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby slammed the Kremlin rep’s death penalty threats as “appalling” and “alarming.”
“We’re going to continue to try and learn what we can about this,” he said.