Two former U.S. service members are believed to have been captured by Russian forces while fighting in Ukraine, according to reports.
Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27, were taken prisoner outside of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine last week while fighting as volunteers alongside a regular Ukrainian army unit, The Telegraph reported Wednesday, according to the those recently in contact with the two men.
The State Department said it has received unconfirmed reports of two U.S. citizens captured in Ukraine, though officials declined to comment further, citing privacy considerations.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and are in contact with Ukrainian authorities,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement.
The development is likely to further increase tensions between the U.S. and Russia, which have declined precipitously amid the Kremlin’s assault on Ukraine.
Messrs. Drueke and Huynh are believed to be the first Americans captured since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
The Kremlin has warned against the West continuing to arm Ukraine, and the Russian Defense Ministry has announced that foreign fighters detained on the battlefield will not be considered combatants, removing certain protections afforded to prisoners of war and potentially exposing them to criminal prosecution in Russia.
Two Britons and one Moroccan accused by Russia of fighting as mercenaries in Ukraine were sentenced to death last week in the separatist-controlled Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss condemned the sentence soon after it was handed down.
“They are prisoners of war,” she said on Twitter. “This is a sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy.”