Two American veterans who were captured by Russian-backed separatist forces in a battle near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, earlier this month may face the death penalty, Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov told NBC News.
Peskov said the fates of Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, and Army Sgt. Alexander Drueke, 39, will be decided by a Russian court. They were “involved in illegal activities” and “should be punished,” he said.
Huynh and Drueke are believed to be the first Americans captured by Russian forces since the war began on Feb. 24. The veterans traveled to Ukraine in April to help Ukrainians repel Russian forces.
Russian state television on Friday showed a video of the two men, confirming that they were taken captive and raising fears about their fate. “We’re just hoping for good news,” Huynh’s fiancée, Joy Black, 21, told USA TODAY. “He’s got such a big heart and a lot of compassion for people in need.”
Last week, two Britons and a Moroccan were sentenced to death by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Prosecutors claimed they were mercenaries and not entitled to protections afforded prisoners of war.
— Celina Tebor
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►The Nobel Peace Prize auctioned off by Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov to raise money for Ukrainian child refugees sold Monday night for $103.5 million, more than 20 times the highest amount previously paid for a Nobel. Muratov also donated to charity the $500,000 that came with the prize.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, said via social media Monday that Ukraine is under threat of a new Russian attack of large proportions, posting: “All six carriers of Russian cruise missiles lined up in the Black Sea and are most likely preparing for a massive launch of missiles.”
In a nightly address Sunday, Zelenskyy warned of a likely offensive coming from Russia this week, when the European Union will debate whether to make Ukraine an official candidate to eventually join the bloc.
“Obviously, we should expect greater hostile activity from Russia. Purposefully, demonstratively. This week exactly,” Zelenskyy said. “And not only against Ukraine, but also against other European countries. We are preparing. We are ready. We warn partners.”
If they do launch an attack, the Russians could be retaliating for Ukrainian missile strikes Monday on three drilling rigs in the Black Sea that supply natural gas to Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula the Kremlin illegally annexed in 2014. The state-owned TASS news agency reported the strikes caused injuries.
The Ukraine military has not provided confirmation.
— Jorge L. Ortiz
Contributing: The Associated Press