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Family of American fighter captured during war believes he and other prisoners are still in Ukraine

Report: U.S. prisoners of war held in Ukraine
Concerns grow over reports of 2 missing Americans in Ukraine 02:49

A former U.S. soldier who was captured by Russian-backed forces in Ukraine two months ago told his mother in a phone call that he and two other American prisoners are still in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, the family said in a press release. Alex Drueke spoke to his mother, Lois "Bunny" Drueke, and a U.S. State Department case manager Thursday morning, the family said.

"Several things he said seem to indicate they are still in the Donetsk region of Ukraine," Bunny Drueke said in the press release. "When he was able to call two weeks ago, he said they had been moved to an actual prison, so we weren't sure if they had maybe been relocated to Russia. But now I don't think they have."

U.S. military veterans Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh and Alexander Drueke left their homes in Alabama to serve with Ukraine's army on the battlefield. They were reportedly captured by Russian forces during fighting in eastern Ukraine in June 2022.  CBS News

She said he mentioned a "nearby bombing of a water filtration plant that left a lot of Donetsk without running water, so they have been given bottled water the past couple of days."

Alex also asked if "the news in America was showing that 'people are dying here in Donetsk and Donbas,'" according to Bunny Dreuke.

The State Department has not confirmed whether the men are in Donetsk. 

Two months ago, Alex Drueke and Andy Huynh, who were volunteering with a squadron of foreign fighters alongside the Ukrainian army, were captured by Russian forces. The U.S. is working to confirm whether a third American, identified as retired Marine Captain Grady Kurpasi, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. military, was also taken prisoner. He went silent after taking small-arms fire in the Kherson region earlier this summer, according to a family friend.

Ukrainian government spokespeople have classified them as prisoners of war.

In a Thursday press release, Bunny Drueke said her son "sounded stronger and more like himself than ever before." 

According to Alex's aunt, Dianna Shaw, he said that he's in a prison cell with Huynh and an unidentified third American. They play "mind games" and chess, using trash as game pieces, and also get time outside, she said she was told.

Alex also asked his mom about the sort of news coverage the war is receiving in the U.S.

"While it sounds just like Alex to want to know about this, we also assume this is something his captors wanted him to ask because he kept returning to the subject throughout the call," Shaw said.

"Alex made a couple of statements that clearly were provided to him and intended to portray Russia as non-aggressors in the conflict," Shaw added. The press release said the family is not repeating those statements. 

"POWs are often used for propaganda purposes, so we want to remind the public to be skeptical of any statements the men make in Russian-generated media," Shaw said.

Last month, Russian media released unverified images and videos allegedly showing the prisoners. Bunny Drueke said one of the people in the images was her son.

"Unmistakably under duress, but thank God they're alive," Bunny Drueke told CBS News foreign correspondent Chris Livesay at the time.

Thursday's press release said both Drueke and Huynh's families are receiving briefings from government officials and support from "NGOs that serve families of hostages and detainees."

Russia's war in Ukraine has been ongoing since February. Much of the heavy fighting has been in the eastern portion of the country, including Donetsk.

Drueke's mother previously told "CBS Mornings" that her son "felt very strongly that Putin needed to be stopped, because he said Putin is not going to be satisfied with just part of Ukraine, or even all of Ukraine."

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