They got engaged just before he volunteered to join Ukraine’s fight against Russia.
Now Joy Black just wants to give “a big hug” to her fiancé, Andy Huynh, who went missing this month near the northeastern border city of Kharkiv and is feared captured along with fellow Alabama native Alexander Drueke, 39.
Black, 21, from Huntsville, Alabama, said in an interview with NBC News on Thursday that she was “scared” for Huynh, 27, who she said was a former U.S. Marine who left the service in 2018.
She said that they had talked about him going to fight before they got engaged in late March. He departed on April 8.
“He’s doing what’s right because those people need help,” she said. “You can’t just sit idly by and just let these people suffer and do nothing about it. So, you know, I support him very strongly. And now I just want to get him home.”
Black said she had an inkling something was wrong last Friday, although Huynh had told her he would be unreachable for two or three days and it was the second day of his mission. Although he “didn’t specify” what he was doing, she said he told her he would be “super busy.”
On Monday she woke to a text from one of his friends asking her to call.
“He told me how during an operation they got separated and that Andy and Alex did not make their rendezvous point,” she said.
“My mom has this big pillow on her bed and I just fell on it and cried a lot,” she added.
Drueke’s mom, Lois, told NBC News on Wednesday that she last heard from her son on June 8.
“I wrote back, ‘Stay safe and I love you.’ And he wrote back, ‘I love you, too,’ and that’s the last I heard from him.”
She said that Drueke served two tours in Iraq, the last as a lead gunner in Baghdad in 2008-09, and that he had never been married and had no children.
“He asked, not my permission, but my blessing to go. And I said, ‘Well, Alex, as a mother, it’s my duty to keep my children safe. But I also want you to be happy and I know that, that this is giving you a purpose in life. I’m so proud of you for being willing to risk your life.’”
Both Drueke and Black said that the two men did not know each other before meeting in Ukraine.
The Washington Post also reports that a third veteran, Grady Kurpasi, has also gone missing while fighting in the eastern European nation, citing his wife, Heeson Kim.
George Heath, a representative for Kurpasi's family, told the newspaper that the 49-year-old was last heard from on April 26, when he was tasked with holding an observation post in the Kherson region so civilians there could evacuate.
If the men have been captured, they would be the first confirmed U.S. citizens to have been taken as prisoners of war in the conflict that began on Feb. 24 with Russian President Vladimir Putin ordering an invasion of its neighbor.
President Joe Biden said Friday that the U.S. doesn’t know the whereabouts of the three men and urged others not to travel to the country.
“I have been briefed, we don’t know where they are,” Biden told reporters Friday. “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.”
An unknown number of Americans, mostly with military backgrounds, have traveled to Ukraine to join the country’s foreign legion and fight alongside Ukrainian soldiers there.
Biden's comments came after Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Thursday that the U.S. had not contacted the Kremlin about the missing men. “We make all information about the fate of detained mercenaries or those sentenced to trial public,” the RIA news agency reported Zakharova as saying.
This month two British men and one Moroccan man were sentenced by a Russian-backed separatist court in Donetsk to be executed by firing squad. The three — Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner and Saaudun Brahim — had been captured while fighting for Ukraine.
While she waits for word on his whereabouts, Black said she was praying for her fiance’s safe return.
“We really miss you and love you and I know you’re doing your best,” she said. “Stay safe and come home.”