‘Top priority for the department’: Families of captive Ukrainian volunteers meet with State Department

("The V" Telegram/CNN)
Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 5:28 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 25, 2022 at 9:33 AM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Family members of Alex Drueke and Andy Huynh, U.S. citizens being held captive by Russian-backed forces in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, met virtually with two representatives of the U.S. Department of State on Friday, July 22, 2022.

The families called this the first face to face meeting with State Department officials.

Michael Abbott of the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) and John Cooney of the Ukraine Desk of the Bureau of European Affairs assured the families that Drueke’s and Huynh’s safety and release are a top priority for the Department, according to Drueke’s aunt Dianna Shaw.

“I was so relieved to hear Mr. Cooney promise us that our nation’s leaders know who Alex and Andy are, and that they will not forget them,” Drueke’s mother, Bunny Drueke, said.

Abbott confirmed the State Department’s actions, which include meetings with British government counterparts and with Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), communications with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and diplomatic conversations with the Kremlin about the status of Drueke and Huynh.

“It was clear to me that the State Department is using every avenue available to make sure Andy and Alex are rightfully identified and treated as Prisoners of War as defined in the Geneva Conventions,” Darla Black, mother of Huynh’s fiancée Joy Black, said. “It was great to hear that our government is making clear in their dealings with Moscow that Alex and Andy are not mercenaries, and that Russia is responsible for treating them in accordance with international standards,” she said.

“I was happy to learn that our government is in close contact with the British government about their citizens who are also being held in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic,” Bunny Drueke said. “Mr. Cooney explained they are working closely to share information and coordinate diplomatic strategies,” she said.

“I also came away with a much better understanding of how the ICRC can assist our families,” Bunny Drueke said. “Because they are a neutral non-government body, there are certain things they can’t say or do for the U.S. Government that they might be able to work on with us. So our plan this week is to ask our ICRC point of contact for a virtual meeting,” she said.

The State Department has received four calls from Drueke (June 23 and 25, July 5 and 8) which Abbott characterized as scripted. “He told us it was obvious Alex was not speaking freely,” Dianna Shaw, Drueke’s aunt, said. “Mr. Abbott said it was difficult for them to assess the men’s treatment and conditions, which was also my sister’s take when she got to speak with Alex,” she said.

Bunny Drueke will meet in person with Rep. Sewell during the week of Aug. 8. Rep. Aderholt has also agreed to meet with Darla and Joy Black.

Drueke and Huynh were Ukrainian Army volunteers with U.S. citizenship who traveled there to support Ukraine.

The Drueke family said Bunny Drueke received a phone call on June 13, 2022, from another member of the unit the men had been with to inform her the unit had come under fire and scattered, and that Drueke and Huynh were as of yet unaccounted for.

Two days later, photos and videos began surfacing on Ukrainian and Russian social media showing the two men in captivity.

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