Two US veterans and five British civilians held for months by Russian-backed troops have been released as part of the prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine brokered by Saudi Arabia.
Relatives of Americans Alexander John-Robert Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, who were captured in June while fighting for Ukraine north of Kharkiv, confirmed they had been released. British Prime Minister Liz Truss tweeted that five British citizens had been released. In addition, three prisoners of Moroccan, Swedish and Croatian nationals were released in the exchange, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said.
“Huge welcome news that five British nationals held by Russian-backed proxies in eastern Ukraine are being brought back safely, ending months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families,” Truss said.
Drueke’s aunt released a statement confirming the release of her cousin, 39, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Huynh, 27, of Hartselle, Alabama.
“We are delighted to announce that Alex and Andy are free. They are safely in custody of the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia and will return to the United States after medical checkups and debriefing. We appreciate everyone’s prayers and especially the close communication and support of our elected officials, Ukrainian Ambassador Markarova, and our members of the US Embassies in Ukraine and Saudi Arabia and the US State Department,” said Diana Shaw, a spokesperson for both families. and Dreuke’s aunt.
The families were unaware that the prisoner swap was underway.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the 10 released prisoners were “released as part of a prisoner of war exchange between Russia and Ukraine” and taken to Saudi Arabia.
CNN previously reported that the two Americans were captured during a battle near Kharkiv. Their pro-Russian captors, the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), is a Russian-backed, self-proclaimed republic that has ruled a breakaway part of Ukraine’s Donetsk region since 2014.
Bunny Drueke, Alexander’s mother, and Huynh’s fiancée, Joy Black, told CNN in June that selflessness and love for the US fueled their loved ones’ decision to go to Ukraine.
“He is one of the most loyal Americans you could ever hope to meet and he was proud to serve his country,” Drueke said of her son. “He said, ‘Mom, I really need to go help fight in Ukraine because if Putin is not stopped there, he will not be satisfied, he will be encouraged and eventually Americans will be threatened.'”
Black said at the time that her fiancé “didn’t go for selfish reasons or anything. It really gnawed at his heart and this great burden on him to go and serve the people in any way he can.”
This story was updated on Wednesday with additional details.