Russia releases 2 US citizens who fought for Ukraine

Russia At War

(NewsNation) — Russia has released U.S. citizens Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh in a prisoner exchange deal brokered by Saudi Arabia, a member of Drueke’s family confirmed to NewsNation on Wednesday.

“We are thrilled to announce that Alex and Andy are free,” said Dianna Shaw, Drueke’s aunt. “They are safely in the custody of the U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia and after medical checks and debriefing they will return to the States. We deeply 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 Department of State.”

Drueke, 39, and Huynh, 27 — both from Alabama — were captured in June while fighting in eastern Ukraine where they went to support Ukrainian troops resisting Russia’s invasion. They went missing after their unit came under heavy fire in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine near the Russian border June 9.

Drueke, an Army veteran, served two tours in Iraq while Huynh served four years in the U.S. Marines.

As part of the swap, Russia released eight other foreign prisoners of war captured in Ukraine following the mediation by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi foreign ministry said.

Besides the two Americans, the freed prisoners included British, Croatian, Moroccan and Swedish nationals, the ministry said in a statement.

The State Department was previously able to speak with Drueke, and relayed messages from him to his mother Lois Drueke, who was fighting to secure her son’s return. At the time, Drueke told the State Department he was being treated “humanely” and had been receiving food and water, according to his mother, who spoke with NewsNation.

Last week, President Joe Biden met with family members of WNBA star Brittney Griner and another American detained in Russia, Paul Whelan, the first face-to-face encounter that the president has had with the relatives.

Still, administration officials have said the meetings were not an indication that negotiations with Russia for their release have reached a breakthrough.

Also last week, John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said that Russia has not responded to what administration officials have called a substantial and serious offer to secure Griner and Whelan’s release.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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