Two Alabamian veteran volunteers in the Ukrainian war, Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, of Hartselle, and Alexander John Robert Drueke, of Tuscaloosa, were taken by the Russian forces near Kharkiv, approximately 25 miles from the border with Russia.
Huynh, 27, a Marine veteran, and Drueke, 39, an Army veteran, were volunteers fighting with a small unit of foreign soldiers when captured by a separatist group back by Russia on June 9.
Dmitri S. Peskov, chief spokesman for the Kremlin, stated on Monday that the two men were not protected by the Geneva Convention as they have been deemed by the Russian government as “soldiers of fortune” and not prisoners of war as they are not members of the Ukrainian army. He went on to state that Huynh and Drueke would be “held responsible for the crimes they have committed,” reportedly firing on Russian troops, after their case has been investigated.
In response, the United States State Department issued a statement imploring Russia’s fulfillment of the international legal standards of treatment of combatants during times of conflict and war as defined by the Geneva Convention.
“We call on the Russian government—as well as its proxies—to live up to their international obligations in their treatment of any individual, including those captured fighting in Ukraine,” the statement reads.
The state department stated that American officials have been in communication with the families of both men, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Ukrainian officials.
From its summation, the Geneva Convention advises, “Certain fundamental humanitarian rules must be observed, regardless of the type of conflict and the status of or activities engaged in by the people affected by the conflict. The following are therefore prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever: murder, torture, corporal punishment, mutilation, outrages upon personal dignity, the taking of hostages, collective punishments, execution without regular trial and all cruel and degrading treatment.
The Conventions and Protocol I prohibit reprisals against the wounded, the sick and the shipwrecked, medical personnel and medical services, civilian defense, personnel and services, prisoners of war, civilians, civilian and cultural objects, the natural environment and works and installations containing dangerous forces.”
Darla Black, the mother of Huynh’s fiancée, stated, “They are not soldiers of fortune, they are not mercenaries, they were volunteers in the Ukrainian military, and they should be treated as lawful combatants. They are prisoners of war,” in an interview with the New York Times.
In an April 8 interview with WAAY-TV, Huynh, originally from Orange County, California, stated he was moved to put up $6000 to go to the Ukraine to help in their freedom efforts after watching reports of the region’s young teens fight for their freedom, their lives and those of their loved ones.
He shared at the time, “I’ve made peace with the decision. I know there’s a potential of me dying. I’m willing to get my life or what I believe is right. For what I’ve been taught is right, through really my eyes, Marine Corps, through God, and really just what is right.”
Huynh’s pastor at Trinity Free Presbyterian Church, Myron Moody, said of his young parishioner’s calling to the Ukraine, “Wow. Admiration is all I can say for a young man to do that. Be willing to give up everything. He’s already done his time in the Marines, but willing to go and help those folks I think is just a very wonderful, wonderful thing telling about his character.”
Earlier this month, three volunteers fighting for Ukraine were sentenced to death by a court in a Russian-occupied portion of eastern Ukraine. The men, from Morocco and Britain, were accused of the intention to commit terrorist acts as mercenaries.
In brief videos released last week on Russian media, the two Alabama men, Huynh and Drueke, were purportedly portrayed saying, “I am against war” in Russian.
In an interview with CNN on Monday, Drueke’s mother, Bunny, said, “I have chosen not to look at those other videos because they are propaganda. Before Alex left, he told me that he needed to speak very directly and frankly with me, that if he were captured, they would be forcing him to make statements. I was not to believe anything except ‘I love you, mom.’”
In a message which she hopes will reach her son, the mother declared, “I would like to tell Alex that I’m taking good care of his dog and that I’m being brave and doing exactly what he asked me to do. And that I love him with all of my heart.”
The Summary of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and Their Additional Protocols can be found at https://www.icrc.org/en/doc/assets/files/publications/icrc-002-0368.pdf.
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