Suedi Murekezi, an American citizen who has lived in Ukraine for the past four years, has been detained by Russian forces. The 35-year-old was arrested in June while he was staying in Kherson, a provincial capital in southern Ukraine that was captured by Russian forces, The New York Times reports.
Speaking to the Times, Murekezi’s brother, Sele Murekezi, said the American man was falsely charged with attending pro-Ukrainian protests. Suedi, a native of Rwanda, served eight years in the U.S. Air Force before moving to Ukraine.
The Air Force veteran, who lived in Minnesota, moved to Ukraine because he was attracted by the country’s liberal bitcoin regulations, the BBC reports. Suedi made several business trips to Ukraine before permanently settling in Kherson.
Sele said his brother, who received permission to call his family after being captured, told his loved ones that he is not injured. Suedi also said he’s being held by the Donetsk People’s Republic, a separatist territory in eastern Ukraine supported by Russia.
Bryan Stern, co-founder of a nonprofit that leads rescue operations in Ukraine, said Suedi didn’t do anything wrong.
“His only crime was being American,” the Project Dynamo co-founder told the Times.
Sele said two of his brother’s closest friends fled to Poland and Georgia after Suedi’s arrest.
“They were very, very scared,” he said.
Sele said the Russians are using his brother “as a pawn for their own propaganda purposes” and they may be treating him poorly because he is Black.
According to the BBC, Suedi is believed to be staying in the same jail as two other Americans captured last month. The state department, however, said it’s “aware of these unconfirmed reports.”
The two other Americans, 27-year-old Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh and 39-year-old Alexander Drueke, have been held captive since early June. They were captured after traveling from Alabama to join a Ukrainian volunteer unit.