Two U.S. veterans held for months by Russian-backed forces in Ukraine were freed as part of a prisoner swap, Saudi Arabia, which brokered the deal, said Wednesday.
Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh were released alongside eight other prisoners of war, including citizens from the U.K., Morocco, Sweden and Croatia. Drueke, a former Army staff sergeant who served in Iraq, and Huynh, a former Marine, were captured near the Ukrainian border city of Kharkiv in June. The pair had traveled from Alabama to fight against invading Russian forces.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry said that the prisoner swap was brokered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The country added that it’s also working to repatriate all the POWs.
It’s unclear who was released to Russia as part of the deal.
U.S. military veterans Andy Tai Huynh (left) and Alexander Drueke (Photo: Jeronimo Nisa/The Decatur Daily, left; and Lois “Bunny” Drueke/Dianna Shaw, via AP, File)
Dianna Shaw, Drueke’s aunt, told The Washington Post on Wednesday that his mother had spoken to him for about 10 minutes after his release.
“He sounded clearheaded, with clear speech,” Shaw told the paper. “He sounded like himself.”
The prisoner exchange came at a pivotal moment in the Kremlin’s invasion. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said he would call up about 300,000 reserve troops to bolster his country’s ongoing attack. The effort comes amid staggering losses for the Russians as its seven-month assault drags on.
British Prime Minister Liz Truss thanked Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Saudis for releasing the U.K. prisoners, saying the exchange had ended “months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families.”
“Hugely welcome news that five British nationals held by Russian-backed proxies in eastern Ukraine are being safely returned,” she tweeted. “Russia must end the ruthless exploitation of prisoners of war and civilian detainees for political ends.”