'I didn't fire a shot', says American held by separatists in eastern Ukraine

FILE PHOTO: A still image taken from Russian state TV footage that it said shows Alexander Drueke, a U.S. citizen captured by Russian forces while fighting for Ukraine, at an unknown location, in a still image from a video released on June 17, 2022. Video released June 17, 2022. RU-RTR/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) - A former U.S. soldier captured in eastern Ukraine said he did not fire a single shot while fighting for the Ukrainian side, in a plea for leniency from separatist authorities who will determine his fate.

In a video interview with Russia's RIA state news agency released on Wednesday, Alexander Drueke said his fighting experience in Ukraine was limited to the day he was captured outside Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city.

"My combat experience here was that one mission on that one day," said Drueke, looking haggard. "I didn't fire a shot. I would hope that would play a factor in whatever sentence I do or don't receive."

Drueke, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and fellow American Andy Huynh, from Hartselle, Alabama, went missing this month. Russian state media later showed video interviews with the pair, saying they had been captured by Russian-backed forces.

The Kremlin has said it cannot rule out that the two captured men would be sentenced to death if put on trial in a region held by Russian proxies who have held large swathes of territory since 2014.

Relatives of the captured Americans say they are not mercenaries and had travelled to Ukraine as volunteers in April to help repel Russian forces, who invaded Ukraine in late February.

News reports quoted Drueke's family this week as saying U.S. state department officials had been in touch with the captive American.

Two British citizens and a Moroccan were sentenced to death by a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic in eastern Ukraine this month after being caught fighting for Ukraine.

Prosecutors said they were mercenaries and not entitled to protections afforded prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention.

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Ron Popeski and Deepa Babington)

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