A third American volunteer fighting in Ukraine has been reported as missing amid concerns that all three may have been captured by Russian or pro-Russian forces.
The family of the former Marine Corps officer Grady Kurpasi disclosed that he had been missing in the Kherson area since late April following the earlier disclosure that two other American military veterans had lost contact with their families.
According to the Washington Post, which spoke to Kurpasi’s family, the 49-year-old had travelled to Ukraine in early March and was last in contact on 26 April when he was assigned to an observation post during a civilian evacuation.
A family representative said Kurpasi’s mobile phone signal was recently traced to the vicinity of a large shopping mall.
The fears over the safety of the missing US volunteers follows the handing down of death sentences by a court in the self-proclaimed separatist republic of Luhansk to two UK volunteers and a Moroccan who were in captivity after surrendering in Mariupol.
The reported disappearance of Kurpasi follows the announcement that Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, had gone missing. If confirmed they would be the first Americans fighting for Ukraine known to have been captured since the war began in February. One US citizen has been killed fighting as a volunteer.
The White House spokesperson John Kirby said he could not confirm the disappearance of the two Americans but said: “If it’s true, we’ll do everything we can to get them safely back home.”
He said the US discouraged Americans from travelling to Ukraine, which has endured a nearly four-month war against invading Russian forces. “It is a war zone. It is combat. And if you feel passionate about supporting Ukraine, there’s any number of other ways to do that that are safer and just as effective,” Kirby told reporters.
The US state department reminded Russia of its obligations under international law to treat prisoners of war humanely. “The Russians have certain obligations and members of the Ukrainian armed forces – including volunteers who may be third-country nationals incorporated into the armed forces – should be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva conventions,” the department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters.
Prisoners of war must be “afforded the treatment and protections commensurate with that status, including humane treatment and fundamental process and fair-trial guarantees”, he said.
Drueke and Huynh went missing during a battle on 9 June near the town of Izbytske, with a post on a Russian propaganda channel on Telegram claiming that two Americans had been captured near Kharkiv.
Bunny Drueke, Alexander Drueke’s mother, told CNN that “they are presumed to be prisoners of war, but that has not been confirmed”. She said the US embassy to Ukraine had not been able to verify whether her son had been captured.
“They have not been able to verify that he’s with the Russians. All that they can verify is that he is missing at this point,” she said. “They stay in close touch with me, and I have every confidence that they are working on the situation.”
The Kremlin has denied knowledge of the captured Americans but describes foreign volunteers as mercenaries with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, saying on Thursday that as such mercenaries were not recognised as protected under the Geneva conventions because they were not lawful combatants.
That view had also been adopted by a court in Russian-controlled east Ukraine which sentenced to death 28-year-old Aiden Aslin, from Newark in England, 48-year-old Shaun Pinner, from Watford in England, and Saaudun Brahim, from Morocco, on charges of “terrorism”.
Both Britons have said they were serving in the Ukrainian marines, making them active-duty soldiers who should be protected by the Geneva conventions on prisoners of war.