Two Alabama men and volunteer fighters in Ukraine who were captured by Russian-backed separatists during fighting near the city of Kharkiv in June have been released and transported to Saudi Arabia as part of a prisoner of war exchange between Ukraine and Russia, according to a statement from relatives and the Alabama congressional delegation.
Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, a former U.S. Marine living near Trinity in Lawrence County, and Alexander Drueke, 39, a former U.S. Army soldier originally from Tuscaloosa, went missing from Kharkiv on June 9, after their combat unit came under attack by Russian forces in the area, according to the Associated Press.
Both men are now in the U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia, which is located in Riyadh, and are awaiting medical checks and debriefings before being transported back to the U.S., according to the mother and aunt of Drueke.
“We are thrilled to announce that Alex and Andy are free,” Lois “Bunny” Drueke and Dianna Shaw said in a joint statement released on Wednesday. “We deeply appreciate everyone’s prayers and especially the cooperation and support of Rep. Sewell and the U.S. Department of State.”
The Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that 10 international volunteers from Morocco, the United Kingdom, the U.S, Sweden, and Croatia were released by Russia on Wednesday. Huynh and Drueke being among those 10 released.
“Words cannot express my joy and relief at this wonderful news,” said Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, in a statement released on Wednesday. “I have been deeply inspired by the strength and resilience of Bunny Drueke and Dianna Shaw as we work to bring these two veterans home. We are all so grateful that Alex and Andy will soon be back on American soil and reunited with their families.”
Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, said in a statement on Wednesday that Huynh’s family told his office that both men had been released from captivity, and he was seeking information from the U.S. State Department on their condition after release and how soon they will be brought back home.
An official at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia told the Associated Press that both men were in “pretty good shape” after their release.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Wednesday that he is thankful to Ukraine for including all prisoners of war regardless of nationality in its negotiations with Russia, and thanked Saudi Arabian officials “for helping to spearhead this humanitarian initiative.” and facilitating the exchange of prisoners.
“We once again reiterate that U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict and the singling out of U.S. citizens in Ukraine by Russian government security officials,” Blinken said on Wednesday. “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. Americans who travel to Ukraine to participate in the fighting there face significant risks and the United States cannot guarantee their safety.