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Air Force veteran Suedi Murekezi detained in Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists

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A US Air Force veteran living in Ukraine has been detained by pro-Russian separatists, his brother has said, making him at least the third American to be captured in Ukraine since the war began.

Troops supporting Russia arrested Suedi Murekezi, 35, in the southern city of Kherson in early June and falsely accused him of taking part in pro-Ukrainian protests, Sele Murekezi said on Saturday.

Sele Murekezi said his brother called him last week and told him he was being held in the self-declared People’s Republic of Donetsk, a breakaway region in eastern Ukraine, along with two other captured Americans, Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh.

A State Department spokesperson said the agency was aware of “unconfirmed reports” that Suedi Murekezi had been captured, but declined to comment further, citing “confidentiality considerations”.

Originally from Rwanda, Suedi Murekezi moved to the United States as a teenager and served in the air force for eight years, his brother said.

Suedi Murekezi moved to Ukraine in 2018 for its vibrant tech sector and later settled in Kherson, the administrative center of a region in southern Ukraine with the same name. Kherson was the first major Ukrainian city to fall to Russian troops after the invasion began.

Sele Murekezi, who lives in Minnesota, said he urged his brother to leave Ukraine before the Russian invasion, but Suedi Murekezi resisted on principle and refused to abandon his close friends there.

On July 7, Sele Murekezi received a phone call from an unknown number. The caller passed the phone to Suedi Murekezi, who said he was being detained and wrongly accused of participating in pro-Ukrainian protests. He said he was not injured or tortured.

“As best we can tell, his only crime is that he’s American and he’s black,” said Bryan Stern, the co-founder of Project Dynamo, a nonprofit that conducts rescues. for those captured, detained or otherwise in need of assistance. evacuation in Afghanistan and Ukraine.

Stern said it is remarkable that Suedi has not been charged with being a mercenary, which he takes as a sign that the authorities do not accuse him of being part of the Legion of International Volunteers fighting for Ukraine.

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But the definition of “protesting” is broad in Russian separatist territory, Stern said. Actions likely to be considered harmless in many places around the world could be considered in the DPR as a “challenge”. As an example, Stern said he worked on a case in Ukraine where a foreigner was arrested for using the Ukrainian version of “thank you” instead of the Russian version.

Sele Murekezi is unsure whether to believe her brother is unharmed. When he spoke to his brother in his native language during the call, Suedi Murekezi answered in English, causing Sele Murekezi to fear that someone was monitoring the conversation.

For Sele Murekezi, the brief exchange offered proof that at least his brother is alive. He said he was in regular contact with the US Embassy in Kyiv and hopes his brother will be released.

“He did his part for America,” Sele Murekezi said, “and maybe America can do something for him too.”

Stern told the Washington Post that, in his experience, there are about three possible paths from here.

The best-case scenario, Stern says, is “a kind of negotiated release – a negotiation between the different parties, usually through intermediaries.”

A second – and less likely – scenario is a “rescue of some sort” operation. Given Suedi Murekezi’s location in the Donetsk People’s Republic, an area under the control of pro-Russian separatists that essentially operates autonomously, even from Moscow authorities, “it’s going to be very, very, very difficult” in this case, Stern said.

A third scenario is that Suedi Murekezi will stand trial – where conviction and sentencing in the DPR would be on the table, with possibly bleak results. The death penalty is authorized in the secessionist territory, unlike Russia.

“The problem…is that he was stopped by a government that doesn’t really exist in the world,” Stern says.

Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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Post expires at 4:00pm on Friday July 22nd, 2022

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