April 1, 2023

Two U.S. veterans held for months by Russian-backed forces in Ukraine released Saudi Arabia, which brokered the deal as part of a prisoner swap, said Wednesday.

Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh were released along with eight other prisoners of war, including citizens from Britain, Morocco, Sweden and Croatia. Former Army Sergeant Drueke and former Marine Huynh, who served in Iraq, were arrested in June near the Ukrainian border city of Kharkiv. The two came from Alabama to fight the invading Russian army.

Saudi foreign ministry says prisoner swap is good offices Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The country added that it was also working to repatriate all prisoners of war.

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

US Veterans Andy Tai Huynh (left) and Alexander Drueke
US Veterans Andy Tai Huynh (left) and Alexander Drueke

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

Diana Shaw, Drucker’s aunt, told the Washington Post On Wednesday, his mother spoke with him for about 10 minutes after his release.

“He sounded clear-headed and spoke clearly,” Xiao told the paper. “He sounds like himself.”

The prisoner exchange took place at a critical moment in the Kremlin invasion. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday he would call in some 300,000 reserve troops to support the ongoing attack in the country. The Russians suffered staggering losses as the seven-month offensive continued.

British Prime Minister Liz Truss thanks Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Saudis thanked the British prisoners for releasing them, saying the exchange ended “months of uncertainty and pain for them and their families”.

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

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