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Family of U.S. veteran missing in Ukraine hope he is alive

The family of a Marine veteran who went missing while fighting in Ukraine believe he is alive and being held as a prisoner of war, one of their spokespeople told NBC News. 

Grady Kurpasi, 49, has not been heard from since April 23, the spokesperson Don Turner said Saturday, adding that the family wants answers about what happened to him.

When Kurpasi spoke with his family from Ukraine, Turner said he was “in good spirits” and “felt like he was doing the right thing.” He added that Kurpasi did three combat deployments in Iraq and had traveled to Ukraine for “humanitarian” reasons.

Kurpasi, he said, was “just trying to help people in any which way possible.” 

His family believes “there is a good possibility he is a POW right now,” Turner said, adding that they think he has already been moved from where they think he was working in southern Ukraine.  

Although the family say they have not received “substantial” updates from the State Department on Kurpasi’s whereabouts, Turner said the family had been conducting their own research to try and track Kurpasi down using “open source networking and just digging and calling people and asking questions.”  

Asked what he would say to the Russians if they were holding Kurpasi captive, Turner replied:  “I think what the family would ask is, just give us an answer.”

As to a message for Kurpasi himself, Turner said: “We know you are a strong bastard, keep it up.”

NBC News has reached out to both the Ukrainian and the Russian defense ministries for comment. 

Kurpasi is one of three U.S. citizens who have been reported missing in Ukraine in the space of a week. 

Andy Huynh, 27, and Alexander Drueke, 39, both from Alabama, were also reported missing by their families last week. Huynh’s fiancee, Joy Black, 21, told NBC News Thursday he was a former U.S. Marine who left the service in 2018. Drueke’s mom Lois, said her son had served two tours in Iraq, the last as a lead gunner in Baghdad in 2008-2009. 

Videos of Huynh and Drueke were shown on RT, a state-controlled international television network, on Friday, confirming their families’ fears that the men had been captured. 

The broadcaster said that the two were being held captive by the Moscow-backed separatist forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, the Associated Press reported. 

NBC News has approached the State Department for comment on Kurpasi’s case. 

A spokesperson for the department said Friday that U.S. officials were “monitoring the situation closely.” They also reiterated an earlier call from President Joe Biden that U.S. citizens “should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict.”

The U.S. has insisted that the Russians have an obligation to treat captive Ukrainian soldiers, as well as volunteers from other countries incorporated into the Ukrainian armed forces, as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions. 

But earlier this month, two British citizens and a Moroccan, whom Russian officials have labeled “mercenaries,” were sentenced to death by pro-Moscow separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Abigail Williams and Irene Byon contributed.

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