Friday, Russian state media aired a video of two U.S. military veterans who went missing last week while fighting in Ukraine, indicating that the soldiers had been captured and heightening concerns for their fate.
Alex Drueke and Andy Huynh, both from Alabama, were reportedly the first Americans seized by Russian forces since the beginning of the war on February 24.
Drueke sent a message to his mother, closing with a wink while speaking into the camera from what appeared to be an office.
"Mom, I just wanted to let you know I'm alive and that I hope to return home as soon as possible. So, love Diesel for me. Love you." Diesel is his dog, a mastiff.
His aunt, Dianna Shaw, stated that the video contained a keyword and a gesture that Drueke and his mother devised during one of his two deployments in Iraq to ensure that his mother would recognize him and know that he was safe.
Drueke, who served in the United States Army, and Huynh, who fought in the United States Marine Corps, went missing on June 9 after their unit came under heavy fire in the northeastern Kharkiv region.
The RT television report cited Drueke in stating that the Americans became separated from the rest and, once it was safe to do so, set out through the woods, eventually arriving in a settlement where they were confronted by a Russian patrol and surrendered.
English-language RT reported that they were being held by rebel fighters backed by Russia in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
Three additional foreign fighters for Ukraine, two Britons and a Moroccan were sentenced to death by a separatist-run court in Donetsk, Donbas.
The United States has urged that everyone captured to be treated as a prisoner of war and be guaranteed humane treatment and fair trials. However, according to the Russian military, foreigners fighting with Ukraine are mercenaries who are not protected under the Geneva Conventions.
A reporter for the Russian official television network VGTRK captured brief recordings of the two guys speaking Russian and declaring, "I am opposed to war."
There has been no official confirmation from the United States or the Russian government that the Americans are being held.
Earlier this week, the State Department was investigating accusations that Russian or Russian-backed forces had detained two American citizens. It also renewed its caution that Americans should not combat in Ukraine, a message that President Joe Biden echoed on Friday.
When asked about the missing Americans before the release of the Russian films, Biden stated that he had been briefed on the matter but given no additional information.
Biden stated, "I don't know where they are and I want to be clear: Americans should not go to Ukraine." I will reiterate that Americans should not travel to Ukraine.