Two Americans who have been held for months by Russian-backed forces were among 10 prisoners who have been released as part of a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine, according to multiple reports.
Officials with the Saudi Arabian foreign ministry said Wednesday that the prisoners have been transported from Russia to Saudi Arabia, and that officials are working to get them returned to their home countries.
Among the people released were 39-year-old Alex Drueke and 27-year-old Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, according to The New York Times. Dianna Shaw, Drueke’s aunt and a spokesperson for both families, confirmed their release in a statement, according to CNN.
Two U.S. military veterans from Alabama who became friends after joining Ukrainian troops to fight against Russia have been released after about three months in captivity, relatives said Wednesday. https://t.co/SpVe2BxwP0— The Associated Press (@AP) September 21, 2022
“They are safely in the custody of the US embassy in Saudi Arabia and after medical checks and debriefing they will return to the States,” she said. “We deeply appreciate everyone’s prayers and especially the close communication and support of our elected officials, Ukrainian Ambassador (Oksana) Markarova, and our members of the US embassies in Ukraine and Saudi Arabia and the US Department of State.”
Drueke and Hunyh, both Alabama residents and U.S. military veterans, went missing June 9 while fighting for Ukraine in the northeastern part of the country, according to The Associated Press. Their families were not aware that a prisoner exchange was in the works, CNN reported.
Shaw told The Washington Post that Drueke’s mother spoke to him for about 10 minutes Wednesday morning after officials at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia contacted the family and that “he sounded clear-headed, with clear speech.”
“I never dreamed that it was a possibility that the Saudi government would be able to do something like this,” she told the newspaper. “But any port in a storm.”
Officials with the Saudi foreign ministry said the prisoner exchange was mediated by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. People from Morocco, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Croatia were also among those released, authorities said.
In a tweet on Wednesday, British Prime Minister Liz Truss confirmed that the release included five Britons.
Hugely welcome news that five British nationals held by Russian-backed proxies in eastern Ukraine are being safely returned, ending months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families.— Liz Truss (@trussliz) September 21, 2022
Foreigners from several countries, including the U.S., traveled to Ukraine after Russia sent troops into Ukraine in February. Before leaving for Europe, Huynh told The Decatur Daily that he felt he had to do something even though he knew “it wasn’t my problem.”
“Two weeks after the war began, it kept eating me up inside and it just felt wrong,” he said. “I was losing sleep.”
Shaw told the AP that Drueke “liked the idea of traveling to help Ukraine so someone with more familial connections wouldn’t have to.”
It was not immediately clear when Huynh and Drueke would return to the U.S.