September 24, 2022

Two American veterans have been held in Ukraine for months by Russian-backed forces were released Saudi Arabia, which brokered the deal, said Wednesday as part of the prisoner exchange.

Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh were released along with eight other prisoners of war, including citizens from the United Kingdom, Morocco, Sweden and Croatia. Drueke, a former Army sergeant who served in Iraq, and Huynh, a former Marine, were captured in June near the Ukrainian border city of Kharkiv. The two traveled from Alabama to fight the invading Russian forces.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia announced that the exchange of prisoners was mediated Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. The country added that it is also working to repatriate all prisoners of war.

It is unclear who was released to Russia as part of the deal.

US Army veterans Andy Tai Huynh (left) and Alexander Drueke
US Army veterans Andy Tai Huynh (left) and Alexander Drueke

Jeronimo Nisa/The Decatur Daily, left; and Lois “Bunny” Drueke/Dianna Shaw, via AP, Phila

Dianna Shaw, Drueke’s aunt, he told the Washington Post on Wednesday that his mother spoke to him about 10 minutes after his release.

“He sounded clear-headed, with clear speech,” Shaw told the paper. β€œHe sounded like himself.”

The exchange of prisoners took place at a crucial moment in the invasion of the Kremlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that he would call up about 300,000 reserve troops to support his country’s ongoing offensive. The effort comes amid staggering losses for the Russians as their seven-month offensive drags on.

British Prime Minister Liz Truss thanked Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky and the Saudis for the release of the UK prisoners, saying the exchange ended “months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families”.

“Very welcome news that five British nationals held by Russian-backed proxies in eastern Ukraine have been returned safely,” she tweeted. “Russia must end the ruthless exploitation of prisoners of war and civilian detainees for political purposes.”

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