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Russia-Ukraine live updates: Russia stonewalling on missing Americans: State Dept.

SERGEI CHUZAVKOV/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin's "special military operation" into neighboring Ukraine began on Feb. 24, with Russian forces invading from Belarus, to the north, and Russia, to the east. Ukrainian troops have offered "stiff resistance," according to U.S. officials.

The Russian military has since launched a full-scale ground offensive in eastern Ukraine's disputed Donbas region, capturing the strategic port city of Mariupol and securing a coastal corridor to the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Jun 21, 4:41 pm
2 captured Americans being held in eastern Ukraine: Russian media

Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, two Americans feared to have been captured while fighting in Ukraine, are being held in a detention facility in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region, Russia's Interfax reported, citing an unnamed source.

The State Department said earlier that the Kremlin has not yet officially confirmed to the U.S. that the men have been captured, much less shared any information on their location.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday that the U.S. has reached out to Russia about the missing Americans, but received no answers.

"We are working hard to learn more about reports of Americans who may be in Russian custody, or in the custody of Russian proxy forces. We have been in touch with Russian authorities regarding U.S. citizens who may have been captured while fighting in Ukraine," Price said.

Jun 21, 2:20 pm
Russia still stonewalling on missing American fighters, State Dept. says

Senior State Department officials said Tuesday that the U.S. has not received any direct information from Russian authorities or any of their proxy forces about Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, two American citizens feared to have been captured while fighting in Ukraine.

While the Kremlin's spokesman has publicly labeled Drueke and Huynh as mercenaries and said "they should be held responsible," Moscow has not yet officially confirmed to the U.S. that the men have been captured.

But senior State Department officials reiterated that the U.S. has been in contact with the Russian government to remind them of the protections granted to prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, even though the Kremlin argues that as "soldiers of fortune" the detainees would not be covered by those protections and could face the death penalty.

"We obviously disagree vigorously. And we have made our position clear to the Russian government," one official said.

The Geneva Conventions outline the humanitarian rights given to prisoners of war, however, mercenaries are not given the same protections.

When asked if the Americans could face the death penalty, Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov said this week, "Yes, we do not rule out anything."

White House spokesman John Kirby on Tuesday called that "appalling."

"It's appalling that a public official in Russia would even suggest the death penalty for two American citizens that were in Ukraine," he said.

Kirby added that the U.S. was still "trying to learn more about these two individuals."

-ABC News' Shannon Crawford and Ben Gittleson

Jun 21, 12:51 pm
Russia controls about 96% of Luhansk region

Russia now controls about 96% of the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces are fighting to hold onto several municipalities in the Luhansk region: Severodonetsk, Lysychansk and the three neighboring villages of Pidlisne, Myrna Dolyna and Toshkivka.

Serhiy Haidi, the head of the Luhansk Regional State Administration, said Ukrainian forces are still holding on to the city of Lysychansk because it sits on elevated ground, giving them a tactical advantage. Russian forces have been heavily shelling the city where approximately 10,000 civilians remain. More than 10 high-rise buildings, private homes and a police station have been destroyed.

In Severodonetsk, Russian forces continue to fire on the Azot chemical plant where 568 civilians are sheltering.

-ABC News' Fidel Pavlenko, Natalya Kushnir and Christine Theodorou

Jun 21, 11:15 am
AG Garland visiting Ukraine, meeting with prosecutor general on war crimes

Attorney General Merrick Garland made an unannounced visit to Ukraine on Tuesday.

Garland is meeting with Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova to discuss the efforts to help identify, apprehend and prosecute the people involved in war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine, a Department of Justice official said.

Garland told reporters, "The United States is sending an unmistakable message: There is no place to hide. We and our partners will pursue every avenue available to ensure that those who are responsible for these atrocities are held accountable."

Garland announced that the Justice Department has launched a War Crimes Accountability Team.

"This initiative will bring together the Department’s leading experts in investigations involving human rights abuses and war crimes and other atrocities; and provide wide-ranging technical assistance, including operational assistance and advice regarding criminal prosecutions, evidence collection, forensics, and relevant legal analysis," the department said in a statement. "The team will also play an integral role in the Department’s ongoing investigation of potential war crimes over which the U.S. possesses jurisdiction, such as the killing and wounding of U.S. journalists covering the unprovoked Russian aggression in Ukraine."

The Justice Department also said it will provide more personnel to help Ukraine and other international partners counter Russian illicit finance and sanctions evasion, including "an expert Justice Department prosecutor to advise on fighting kleptocracy, corruption, and money laundering."

-ABC News' Alex Mallin

Jun 21, 9:00 am
AG Garland to visit Ukraine, meet with prosecutor general on war crimes

Attorney General Merrick Garland is making an unannounced visit to Ukraine on Tuesday, according to a Department of Justice official.

Garland will meet with Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova to discuss the efforts to help identify, apprehend and prosecute the people involved in war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine, the official said.

Garland told reporters, "The United States is sending an unmistakable message: There is no place to hide. We and our partners will pursue every avenue available to ensure that those who are responsible for these atrocities are held accountable."

-ABC News' Alex Mallin

Jun 21, 7:42 am
American killed in Ukraine, officials say

U.S. citizen Stephen Zabielski has died in Ukraine, the State Department confirmed to ABC News Tuesday morning.

"We can confirm the death of U.S. citizen Stephen Zabielski in Ukraine," a State Department spokesperson said. "We have been in touch with the family and have provided all possible consular assistance. Out of respect to the family during this difficult time, we have nothing further."

Zabielski's death was first reported by Rolling Stone.

US officials again cautioned Americans against traveling to Ukraine, saying "that U.S. citizens in Ukraine should depart immediately if it is safe to do so using any commercial or other privately available ground transportation options."

-ABC News' Matthew Seyler

Jun 21, 5:39 am
Russia intensifies threats, announces retaliatory strikes

Following Ukraine's attack on three oil drilling platforms in the Black Sea off the coast of Russian-annexed Crimea on Monday, Russian officials announced plans to strike critical Ukrainian targets in retaliation.

“The attack on the Chernomorneftegaz towers unleashes Russia's hands,” Mikhail Sheremet, a Russian member of parliament, said on Monday as quoted by Russian media. “Retaliatory strikes on decision-making centers will be carried out in the near future,” Sheremet added.

Seven people remain missing after Ukraine's strike on the drilling platforms, a source in the emergency services of Crimea said on Tuesday.

The fire on one of the oil rigs is still continuing, Russian Federation Council member from Crimea Olga Kovitidi told Interfax.

"With regards to the blaze, it is not abating on the oil rig. The fire approached the well overnight," Kovitidi said.

On a day filled with intimidation tactics, Russia extended its threats to Lithuania on Monday, calling the Baltic country's decision to suspend the transit of EU-sanctioned goods to the Russian Kaliningrad region “unprecedented” and “illegal."

On June 18, Lithuania notified the Kaliningrad Railway of suspending the transit of EU-sanctioned goods through its territory. Up to half of ready-to-import goods, including building materials and metals, are subject to the ban, Kaliningrad region Governor Anton Alikhanov said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the Lithuanian Chargé d'Affaires on Monday and warned the Baltic diplomat of repercussions if freight transit to the Kaliningrad region is not restored in full in the near future.

“Russia reserves the right to take action to protect its national interests,” the Russian ministry told the Lithuanian official as reported by local media.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a tweet on Monday that “Russia has no right to threaten Lithuania.” According to Kuleba, “Moscow has only itself to blame for the consequences of its unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine.”

Yet on the same day, Russian officials announced military drills of the Baltic Fleet in the Kaliningrad region.

Several hundred firings of multiple rocket launcher systems, large-caliber guns and other artillery will be carried out during the exercises, the Baltic Fleet stated on Monday.

Maneuvers in the Kaliningrad region on Monday involved about 1,000 servicemen and more than 100 combat units, including special artillery equipment and missile units, according to Russian media.

Andriy Yermak, who heads the Ukrainian Presidential office, said Russia's attempts to threaten Lithuania “are a challenge for the European Union and NATO.”

“Now it is important to maintain a stable position and not make concessions to Russia on sanctions and restrictions on the transit of goods from Russia to Kaliningrad,” Yermak said on Monday.

Any concession will be perceived by Russia as a weakness, the Ukrainian official added.

-ABC News' Edward Szekeres, Max Uzol, Tatiana Rymarenko and Yuriy Zaliznyak

Jun 20, 4:17 pm
Kremlin spokesperson addresses missing Americans, Brittney Griner

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told MSNBC that Americans Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh and Alexander Drueke, who were captured while fighting in Ukraine, "committed crimes," and that they were not part of the Ukrainian armed forces and therefore not subject to the Geneva Conventions.

"They were involved in firing and shelling our military personnel, they were endangering their life and they should be responsible. They should be held responsible … for those crimes that they have committed," he said.

The Geneva Conventions outline the humanitarian rights given to prisoners of war, however, mercenaries are not given the same protections.

Regarding WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia since February, Peskov said she’s not a hostage.

He said Russia has strict drug laws and she was caught carrying banned substances.

Griner was taken into custody at an airport near Moscow after officials allegedly found vape cartridges with hashish oil in her bag. Hasish oil is illegal to possess in Russia. The U.S. government has classified her case as "wrongfully detained," which means that the U.S. would work to negotiate her release.

Jun 20, 4:09 pm
Ben Stiller, a goodwill ambassador with UNHCR, visits Ukraine

Actor Ben Stiller, a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the last five years, is visiting Ukraine to highlight the refugee crisis.

"I’m here meeting people forced to flee their homes due to the war in Ukraine. People have shared stories about how the war has changed their lives -- how they’ve lost everything and are deeply worried about their future," Stiller said Monday from Ukraine.

"Protecting people forced to flee is a collective global responsibility," he said. "We have to remember this could happen to anyone, anywhere."

Stiller was seen meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday. Stiller told the actor-turned-president, "What you’ve done and the way that you’ve rallied the country and for the world, it’s really inspiring."

Stiller also met with displaced people in Poland.

-ABC News' Christine Theodorou

Jun 20, 2:10 pm
Russians launching large-scale offensive in Luhansk region

Serhiy Haidai, the head of the Regional Military Administration in Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, said the situation along the entire Luhansk front is "extremely" difficult with Russian forces "launching a large-scale offensive in our region."

"They have accumulated a sufficient number of reserves and today all the free settlements of the region are on fire," Haidai said.

The city of Lysychansk in the Luhansk Oblast has been coming under "massive" Russian fire all day, he said, with the number of victims unknown. He said Russian forces are advancing along the Lysychansk-Bakhmut highway and nearby settlements are under constant fire.

Haidai added that Ukrainian troops are only in control of the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk.

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