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3rd US veteran missing in Ukraine

U.S. Marine Capt. Grady Kurpasi, commanding officer of Headquarters Company, 2nd Marine Regiment, speaks at an elementary school assembly in Swansboro, N.C., Jan. 25, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron Douds)
June 17, 2022

Just days after a pair of U.S. veterans fighting in Ukraine went missing, it was revealed this week that another U.S. veteran is believed to have gone missing.

The family and friends of Grady Kurpasi, a 20-year veteran of U.S. Marine Corps, told CNN on Thursday that they hadn’t heard from him since April 24, after he traveled to Ukraine. Family friend George Heath told CNN that Kurpasi had volunteered to travel to Ukraine and assist the country in its ongoing defense against Russian invasion forces, but did not specifically plan to fight.

News of Kurpasi’s disappearance came a day after reports broke that two U.S. military veterans who volunteered to fight alongside Ukrainian forces disappeared last week and may have been captured by Russian forces.

On Friday, President Joe Biden told reporters he’d been briefed on the three Americans’ disappearance and said their whereabouts are unknown.

He added, “I want to reiterate: Americans should not be going to Ukraine now. I’ll say it again: Americans should not be going to Ukraine now. They should not be going to Ukraine.”

During a State Department press briefing on Thursday, department spokesperson Ned Price discussed the reports of the two possibly captured Americans.

“We are aware of unconfirmed reports of two U.S. citizens captured in Ukraine,” Price said. “We’re closely monitoring the situation. We are in contact with Ukrainian authorities, as well as with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the families of the two reported missing U.S. citizens.”

Price did not name the two reportedly captured Americans, but other outlets have identified them as 39-year-old U.S. Army veteran Alexander Drueke and 27-year-old Marine veteran Andy Huynh.

When pressed for information about the first two missing Americans, Price admitted the State Department has contacted the Red Cross and the Ukrainian government but has not contacted the Russian government.

“As of today, we have not raised this yet with the Russian Federation,” Price said. “If we feel that such outreach through our embassy in Moscow or otherwise would be productive in terms of finding out more information on the whereabouts of these individuals, we won’t hesitate to do that.”

Price said part of the reason the State Department had not contacted Russia about the first two missing Americans was that the department hadn’t seen any indication from Russian officials indicating they had the missing Americans in their custody.

“If the Russians were to claim that they had such individuals, I assume we would pursue that,” Price said. “If we had reason to believe, credible reason to believe that these individuals were in Russian custody, we would pursue that as appropriate.”

After addressing the first two Americans reported missing in Ukraine during the press conference, Price was asked about a potential third American missing in Ukraine. A reporter asked, “does the State Department have an understanding of who this individual is, and are you in touch with their family?”

“We are in touch with the family, yes,” Price replied, without naming the third reported missing American.

During the press briefing, Price reiterated the department’s advice for Americans to avoid traveling to Ukraine.

“The broader message – and this is something you’ve heard from us previously, and it’s one we reiterate again today – is that we continue to urge in every way we can American citizens not to travel to Ukraine,” Price said.

“There are many individuals in this country who are well-intentioned and who want to do everything they can to help the people of Ukraine. Of course, we all understand that,” Price added. “There are avenues and ways to channel that energy, to channel those efforts in ways that are constructive and ultimately helpful for the people of Ukraine, and you can find many of those on our website.”

The disappearance and potential capture of these three Americans come as pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine captured two British nationals and a Morrocan national in the eastern Donetsk region and, after a two-day trial, sentenced them to death for fighting as mercenaries. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss called the trial a “sham” with “absolutely no legitimacy” and lawyers for the three men are actively trying to appeal their death sentences.

The ongoing Russian invasion has attracted thousands of international volunteers, including many former U.S. service members, to travel to Ukraine to fight alongside their forces.