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


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

support troops Russia Suedi Murekezi, 35, was taken into custody in the southern city of Kherson in early June and falsely accused of taking part in pro-Ukrainian protests, Sele Murekezi said on Saturday.

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

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said the agency was aware of “unconfirmed reports” that Suedi Murekezi had been detained, but declined to comment further, citing “privacy considerations”.

Rwandan-born 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 dynamic technology sector and later settled in Kherson, the administrative center of a region of the same name in southern Ukraine. 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 Russia invaded, but Suedi Murekezi resisted on principle and refused to abandon his close friends there.

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

“As far as we can tell, his only crime is that he’s American and Black,” said Bryan Stern, the co-founder of Project Dynamo, a nonprofit initiative that conducts rescue operations for those who are trapped, incarcerated, or otherwise in need of evacuation in Afghanistan and Ukraine.

Stern said that was remarkable Suedi has not been charged as a mercenary, which he interprets as a sign that the authorities are not accusing him of being part of the legion of international volunteers fighting for Ukraine.

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But the definition of “protest” is broad in the Russian separatist area, Stern said. actions likely could be considered harmless in many parts of the world be regarded as “defiance” in the DPR. 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 one.

Sele Murekezi is unsure whether to believe his brother is unharmed. When he spoke to his brother in their native language on the call, Suedi Murekezi replied in English – which Sele Murekezi feared someone was eavesdropping on the conversation.

For Sele Murekezi, the brief exchange was proof that at least his brother was alive. He said he is 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 routes from here.

The best scenario, Stern says, is “some sort of negotiation clearance — a negotiation between the various parties, usually through middlemen.”

A second — and less likely — scenario is “some sort of bailout.” Given Suedi Murekezi’s location in the Donetsk People’s Republic, an area controlled by pro-Russian separatists that functions essentially autonomously even from the Moscow authorities, “this case is going to be very, very, very difficult,” Stern said.

A third scenario is that Suedi Murekezi faces trial – where a conviction and conviction in the DPR would be on the table, with potentially grim consequences. Unlike in Russia, the death penalty is allowed in the breakaway territory.

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

Alice Crites contributed to this report. Air Force veteran Suedi Murekezi was arrested by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine

Dustin Huang

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