Suedi Murekezi has become the third US national to be captured by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine, according to his friends and family.
Murekezi, a 35-year-old Rwanda-born Bitcoin investor, had been living in the now-occupied city of Kherson in southern Ukraine for more than two years, and was arrested in June, his brother Sele Murekezi told The Guardian..
Sele said his family became “extremely worried for his well-being” after they received a call on July 7 saying that pro-Russian separatists had imprisoned him in the city of Donetsk, in the eastern Donbas region.
“He is obviously in danger,” Sele said.
The US State Department has said that it is aware of reports of a US national living in Ukraine being held captive by pro-Russian forces.
The department said Wednesday that it was “aware of these unconfirmed reports,” but declined to comment further “due to privacy considerations.”
Murekezi’s family say he has been falsely accused of participating in pro-Ukraine protests.
According to The Guardian, the 35-year-old immigrated to the US after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, lived in Minnesota, and is a US Air Force veteran, serving in the force until 2017, when he began investing in shares and cryptocurrencies.
Drawn to Ukraine its liberal bitcoin regulations, Murekezi made business trips to the country before settling in Kherson two years ago, his friends and family said.
“I know for a fact that he did not go out and protest,” Leo de Lange, a Dutch friend of Murekezi, told The Guardian..
“They are using him as a pawn for their own propaganda purposes,” Sele said.
Murekezi is reportedly detained with two other US military veterans, Andy Huynh, 27, and Alexander Drueke, 39. Huynh and Drueke, both residents of Alabama, are believed to have been captured on June 9.
De Lange, described Murekezi as a “bitcoin maximalist,” while Vladimir, a Kherson native who befriended Murekezi, said he developed a fondness for Ukraine.
“He loved how welcoming Ukraine and Ukrainians were. He often said that Kherson was his favorite city, he really liked it here,” said Vladimir.
De Lange said he and Murekezi “quickly bonded over our passion for cryptocurrencies.”
“We were both very excited about all the ambitious plans Ukraine had with crypto before the war started,” he said.
Murekezi’s family told The Guardian that they were in contact with the state department about his situation daily.
Newsweek has reached out to Russia’s Foreign Ministry and the US State Department for comment.