Kharkiv, Ukraine — Like the brutal battle for control of the strategically essential city of Severodonetsk in the eastenrages, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy predicted that Russia will increase its this week. Despite the US government’s warning against all travel to the country, Americans participated in the fighting, including two who were captured by Russian forces.
CBS News correspondent Chris Livesay is in the eastern city of Kharkiv and spoke with another American who fought alongside39, before his capture on the battlefield.
The American citizen insisted on remaining anonymous because he is still fighting on the front lines from which Huynh and Drueke disappeared. The two men resurfaced in a video shown in Russian media late last week, in captivity, and speaking under pressure.
In the video, Drueke says he was repeatedly beaten, and at one point, the two are seen tied up, blindfolded and forced to kneel. Drueke says he fears they will be executed.
Recalling the struggle they were all involved in shortly before his comrades were taken prisoner, the American told CBS News that they and the Ukrainian forces they served with were withdrawing from the area amid a Russian advance.
“The team was supposed to be setting up ambush positions and instead a hasty defense was mounted to allow more Ukrainian troops to withdraw,” he told Livesay. But then there was an explosion. He and his companions suspected that “the explosion knocked them unconscious, and that’s how they were captured”.
“They don’t want to be glory hunters,” the American fighter told Livesay. “They’re not warmongers or any other type that’s here for selfish reasons… They ended up here a bit by accident in the situation they’re currently in, and it’s a series of unfortunate events, in hindsight. They wanted to do good and… This is kind of… was, I suppose, the unfortunate result of that.”
“We’ve been warned for some time that execution could be a possibility,” the fighter said, adding that he was “very glad they didn’t” in the case of his two friends.
But the whereabouts of the two men remain uncertain. At one point in the video shown in Russian media, Drueke’s interrogator says they are in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, on land controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
Earlier this month, two Britons and a Moroccan were found guilty of fighting alongside Ukrainian forces and sentenced to death by the pro-Russian government that controls the region.
The American wrestler who spoke to CBS News said that if he could talk to Huynh and Drueke right now, he would apologize to them.
“Because they kind of followed me here,” he said. “We all agreed. There was no leader in the group. But, yeah, I definitely feel a little guilty. Definitely. We should have looked more closely at the humanitarian or training options. Not being in the situation they are in.”
The American fighter said he hopes his friends are “focusing on what they want to do when they get home” so they can get through this period. “I hope Andy is focusing on getting back and marrying his fiancée, and what needs to be done to plan that in his head. Stuff like that might help their situation.”
Huynh was engaged shortly before he and Drueke left their Alabama homes for Ukraine.
The US State Department said it is doing everything it can to locate the Americans and ensure their safety, and the American combatant who spoke to CBS News said he believed that.
He said he, Huynh and Drueke understood the risks before traveling to Ukraine, but he hinted that they may have underestimated the huge military advantage Russia has in firepower – and in its control of airspace in particular. – and he warned other Americans considering the same trip.
“Anyone who is here out of selfishness seeking glory, or wants to come and say they were in a group, but only to pretend and sit in a tent – these people, I would say, don’t bother. will be a burden to their fellows. and more than likely you will be hurt. You can get killed or you can get someone else killed. People need to realize how intense it can be. It’s not the Taliban. It’s not the Iraqi The Russians have the air support and air superiority here.
Another American who offered to join Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invasion, who also spent time with Huynh and Drueke in Ukraine,that he believed they would return home because they are too valuable to Moscow as a bargaining chip to be killed.
The State Department confirmed late last week that, in addition to Huynh and Drueke, it is also investigating reports that a third American is missing in Ukraine. Retired Navy Captain Grady Kurpasi, a 20-year veteran of the US military, was silent after receiving small arms fire in the Kherson region, according to a family friend. Since then, there is no information about him.