The family of a Marine veteran who disappeared fighting in Ukraine believe he is alive and being held as a prisoner of war, a spokesperson said.
Grady Kurpasi, 49, has not been heard from since April 23, the spokesperson, Don Turner, said Saturday, adding that the family want 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, who did three combat deployments in Iraq, had traveled to Ukraine for “humanitarian” reasons.
Kurpasi, he said, was “just trying to help people in any which way possible.”
His family believe “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 gotten “substantial” updates from the State Department about Kurpasi’s whereabouts, Turner said they have been conducting their own research to try to 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 asked the Ukrainian and the Russian defense ministries for comment.
Kurpasi and two other U.S. citizens have been reported missing in Ukraine in a week.
Andy Huynh, 27, and Alexander Drueke, 39, both from Alabama, were reported missing by their families last week. Huynh’s fiancée, Joy Black, 21, said Thursday that he is a former Marine who left the service in 2018. Drueke’s mom, Lois, said her son served two tours in Iraq, the last as a lead gunner in Baghdad in 2008-09.
Videos of Huynh and Drueke were shown Friday on RT, a Russian state-controlled international television network, confirming their families’ fears that the men had been captured.
The broadcaster said they were being held captive by the Moscow-backed separatist forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, The Associated Press reported.
NBC News has asked the State Department for comment on Kurpasi’s case.
A State Department spokesperson said Friday that U.S. officials were “monitoring the situation closely.” The spokesperson also reiterated President Joe Biden’s earlier call 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 two British citizens and a Moroccan, whom Russian officials have labeled “mercenaries,” were sentenced to death this month by pro-Moscow separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Abigail Williams and Irene Byon contributed.