A third American who traveled to Ukraine to lend assistance in the war against Russia appears to be missing, amid growing indications the other two have been captured.
State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Thursday the department has been in contact with the family of the third US citizen believed to be missing but did not reveal the person’s name.
CNN on Thursday also reported on a newly revealed photo that appears to show two American veterans from Alabama, Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, in the back of a Russian truck with their hands behind their backs. The report comes as the State Department says it is investigating unconfirmed reports that the Americans have been captured by Russian or Russian-backed forces.
Both men, who have become friends, went missing after their group came under heavy fire in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine near the Russian border on June 9.
White House spokesman John Kirby stressed that the US discourages Americans from fighting for Ukraine. “It is a war zone. It is combat,” Kirby said. “If you feel passionate about supporting Ukraine, there is any number of other ways to do that that are safer and just as effective. Ukraine is not the place for Americans to be traveling.”
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►Japanese budget airline Ziair Tokyo is dropping the “Z” logo on its aircraft because of its similarity with what has become a pro-invasion symbol in Russia.
►NHL officials will not allow the Stanley Cup to travel to Russia or Belarus this summer, forgoing the unofficial tradition of allowing players from those countries to travel there while spending a day with the cup. Officials informed both the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Colorado Avalanche of the decision.
►President Joe Biden on Wednesday asked oil producers to reduce the cost of gas, telling them in a letter that “amid a war that has raised gasoline prices more than $1.70 per gallon, historically high refinery profit margins are worsening that pain.”
►The basketball EuroLeague, which had three Russian entries last season, has suspended teams from that country for the upcoming season, citing “air travel restrictions and prohibitions or other limitations to issuing visas to Russian residents” because of the war.
Russia expected Kyiv to fall within 12 hours, Ukraine defense minister says
The Russian military expected Kyiv to surrender within 12 hours of the start of the invasion and the government to flee the capital within days, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Thursday.
A document found on a Russian military officer killed in the invasion stated the Russian military objectives, Reznikov told CNN. The Kremlin expected the government would remain in the city less than three days, Reznikov said.
“Our partners in the different capitals of the world were also naive,” he said. “They told us that invasion was imminent, and you will fall. You only have 72 hours. That’s why they didn’t give us heavy weaponry.”
The invasion began Feb. 24 with Russian troops forming a long column as it rolled toward Kyiv. But when the invasion stalled, the Kremlin turned its attention to eastern Ukraine. Russian troops have made some headway there, but thoughts of a quickly completed “special military operation” have passed into history.
Russian spy attempted to access international court investigating war crimes as an intern, Dutch say
A Russian military spy posed as a Brazilian national in an attempt to get an internship at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, which is investigating war crimes allegations in Ukraine, the Dutch intelligence service said Thursday.
The General Intelligence and Security Service named the Russian intelligence officer as Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov and said that in April he used an elaborately constructed identity to try to infiltrate the court. It published a letter that accompanied Cherkasov’s internship application. Writing under the alias Viktor Muller Ferreira, he spun a complex cover tale about growing up in poverty in Brazil and how members of his family suffered from heart problems.
Cherkasov was detained at a Dutch airport and deported to Brazil, where he could face court proceedings.
“If the intelligence officer had succeeded in gaining access as an intern to the ICC, he would have been able to gather intelligence there and to look for (or recruit) sources, and arrange to have access to the ICC’s digital systems,” the General Intelligence and Security Service said in a statement.
That would have provided a “significant contribution” to the intelligence that Russia is seeking. The spy might also have been able to influence criminal proceedings, the service said.
There was no immediate reaction from Moscow, though the attempted infiltration may indicate how seriously Russian President Vladimir Putin is taking allegations of Russian war crimes in Ukraine. The Kremlin has consistently denied the accusation, saying the West was concocting a misinformation campaign against Russia.
– Kim Hjelmgaard
Two US military veterans from Alabama who went to Ukraine to help beat back the invasion are missing and feared to have been captured by Russian troops or Russian-backed separatists, their family members said.
Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, of Trinity, Alabama, and Alexander Drueke, 39, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, haven’t been heard from for days after being in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine, near the Russian border, family members say.
Going to Ukraine was “not a decision he made lightly,” Huynh’s fiancée, Joy Black, told USA TODAY. “He’s got such a big heart and a lot of compassion for people in need.”
Huynh told her on June 8 that he would be unavailable for a few days. Black, 21, told USA TODAY she began to worry when she didn’t hear from him. She received a call on Monday from another soldier in his unit, saying the pair hadn’t met up at a rendezvous point during an operation. The caller told them other soldiers waited a day and conducted a drone search.
Whether they were captured isn’t known, said Black, whose family has since been in touch with the State Department and a Red Cross group in Ukraine that is also searching for the men. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, asked about the men Thursday, said “we are working very hard to learn more.”
“We’re just hoping for good news,” Black said.
French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Premier Mario Draghi arrived in Ukraine on Thursday to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as they prepare for a European Union leaders’ summit in Brussels next week and a June 29-30 NATO summit in Madrid. They were joined by President Klaus Iohannis of Romania, who came separately.
The four European leaders pledged to continue supporting Ukraine with more weapons as it tries to repel the Russian invasion, and also vowed to get behind Kyiv’s candidacy to eventually join the European Union.
“My colleagues and I have come here to Kyiv today with a clear message: Ukraine belongs to the European family,” Scholz said.
Macron tweeted video of the heavy damage to Irpin, a city of 60,000 people about 15 miles west of Kyiv.
“We saw the devastated city and the stigmata of barbarism,” Macron wrote. “And the heroism, too, of the Ukrainians who stopped the Russian army as it descended on Kyiv. Ukraine resists. She must be able to win.”
Said Draghi: “They destroyed the nurseries, the playgrounds. And everything will be rebuilt.”
Russian economic leaders paint bleak picture
Two of Russia’s leading economic minds made it clear Thursday that Western sanctions imposed in response to the invasion of Ukraine are having a damaging impact, even as the surge in global oil prices lessens the sting.
Elvira Nabiullina, head of the Russian Central Bank, warned that the country’s economy faces pressure from abroad that could persist indefinitely and the previous status won’t return soon, if at all.
“External conditions have changed for a long time indeed, if not forever,” she said at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.
Minister of Economic Development Maxim Reshetnikov said Russia’s gross domestic product is expected to fall by 7.8% this year, although “in the last month, there’s been a wave of improving assessments and prognoses.”
Contributing: Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY; Associated Press