Third American missing in Ukraine is US Marine veteran Grady Kurpasi

The last time Heeson Kim and other close friends heard of Kurpasi was between April 23 and 24, George Heath, a family friend of Kurpasi told CNN. Kurpasi served in the United States Marine Corps for 20 years and retired in November 2021. He chose to volunteer alongside Ukrainians in Ukraine, but initially did not see himself fighting on the front lines of war, Heath said.

“For him personally, he has a skill set that he thinks he can give back,” he said of Kurpasi. “He wanted to go and help the Ukrainian people. He didn’t really intend to fight.”

The State Department said it was aware of reports of a third American who traveled to Ukraine to fight against Russia and who was identified “in recent weeks” as missing, said State Department spokesman Ned Price at a press briefing on Thursday. Price did not name the third American who is believed to be missing, but said the State Department was in contact with the family.

Kurpasi arrived in Ukraine on March 7 and traveled to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, on March 21, Heath said. Kurpasi and other foreign legion members were tasked with manning an observation post in late April near Kherson, around the time Kurpasi stopped communicating with his wife and friends in the United States, said heath. The Foreign Legion is a group of foreign fighters who volunteered to fight alongside Ukrainians against Russia’s invasion of the country. It is not clear whether Kurpasi was a member of the foreign legion, but he was a volunteer fighting alongside the Ukrainians, Heath said.

The Kurpasi and foreign legion troops manning the post at the time began “receiving small arms fire” on April 26, Heath said, meaning they were being shot at. Kurpasi and the other soldier “went to investigate what was going on,” so they left the observation post, Heath said. Kurpasi then radioed the Ukrainian military to begin fighting back and “that was the last anyone would hear from him,” said Heath, who pieced together the account of other foreign legion members with whom he spoke to in the weeks following Kurpasi’s disappearance.

The State Department told Kim that Kurpasi was missing in action on April 28, Heath said. The reason he was identified as missing in action is because his body has not been found or identified, he added.

“Kurpasi’s goal was not to get in a firefight doing things like that,” when he went to Ukraine, Heath said. “It ended up being like that in the end,” he added.

Kurpasi joined the U.S. Marines after the September 11 terrorist attacks and completed four deployments during his service, including three to Iraq. He was a decorated service member who earned the Good Conduct Medal three times, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal three times, the Purple Heart Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Global War on Terror Expeditionary Medal, among other awards, according to his military service record.

Heath described Kurpasi, his platoon commander in the US Marines from 2012 to 2014, as a “great leader”. “He always led from the front. He always took care of his Marines,” he said.

After retiring from the Marines last fall, Kurpasi applied to a doctoral program at Stanford University. He did not enter the program but applied to other doctoral programs while in Ukraine, Heath said.

Kurpasi’s last posting in the army was at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He lived in Wilmington, North Carolina, before leaving for Ukraine, another family friend, Jason Tokushige, told CNN.

A new photo appears

Price said the State Department is in contact with the families of the two other U.S. citizens believed to have been captured in the country, as well as with Ukrainian authorities and the International Committee of the Red Cross, but they are not Nor could they confirm reports that these two citizens were captured. capture.

On Wednesday, CNN reported that Alexander John-Robert Drueke, 39, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, of Hartselle, Alabama — who were fighting alongside Ukrainian forces north of Kharkiv — are missing. for nearly a week and it is feared they have been captured by Russian forces, according to their families and a fellow fighter.

A photo emerged on Thursday of Drueke and Huynh in the back of a Russian military truck, apparently confirming that they had been captured by Russian forces north of Kharkiv last week. CNN could not independently verify when the photo was taken.

The image shows the two men staring at the camera with their hands behind their backs as if they were bound.

The undated photo was posted on Telegram on Thursday by a Russian blogger.

The US State Department told the family of one of the Americans missing in Ukraine on Thursday that there is potential evidence of Drueke’s capture, but could not verify the photo at the time, a Bunny Drueke, Alexander’s mother, told CNN.

“They said there was a photo circulating in Russian media. And they’re working hard to verify it,” Drueke told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead.” “We have a lot of hope.”

Drueke said his son went to Ukraine to train soldiers there to fight Russia because “he felt that if Putin wasn’t stopped now, he would get bolder with every success, and maybe he would end up be by ending up on American shores”.

There is very little to identify the location of the vehicle seen in the photo, but a white box of food with falling cans has been identified by CNN as ‘Vegetable Mackerel’ made by a Russian food producer.

CNN has contacted the Russian Defense Ministry for comment.

No Russian contact

Price said the United States is not in contact with Russia about captured American citizens because it does not yet have a “credible reason” to believe the Russians captured them and also because that Russia did not claim to have captured them.

“If we feel that such outreach through our embassy in Moscow or otherwise would be productive in terms of uncovering more information about the whereabouts of these people, we will not hesitate to do so,” Price said. .

Price also said the US was in touch with “other partners”, including the UK, on ​​”this broader issue”.

The department spokesman warned Americans against traveling to the country amid the conflict with Russia.

“We continue to urge American citizens in every way not to travel to Ukraine due to the inherent dangers of Russia’s continued aggression,” he said.

This headline and story were updated with additional developments on Thursday.

CNN’s Clarissa Ward, Barbara Starr, Daniella Mora, Mick Krever, Jonny Hallam and Devan Cole contributed to this report.

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