Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27, who were captured in June while defending Kharkiv, were at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia after being freed in the exchange, a representative of their families told Reuters Wednesday.
“We are thrilled to announce that Alex and Andy are free,” the representative said in a statement. “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 U.S. Department of State.”
JUST IN: Ten foreign fighters, including two Americans who joined the war effort in Ukraine before they were captured and held by Russian forces, were released as part of an exchange of prisoners of war between Russia and Ukraine. https://t.co/gSAneEZIym
— NBC News (@NBCNews) September 21, 2022
The swap was part of a deal that also included five British nationals, one Moroccan, one Swede, and one Croatian. It was mediated by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi foreign ministry said. Ukrainian officials released an unknown number of Russian captives as their part of the deal.
Drueke and Huynh were the first known U.S. citizens to be captured by Russian forces. Huynh’s fiancé, Joy Black, told Reuters at the time the men signed up to fight after seeing television footage of the Russian invasion, which began February 24.
Drueke, of Tuscaloosa, and Huynh, of Hartselle, who both served in the U.S. military, did not know each other before joining the fight. They were captured in a village near Kharkiv, Military.com reported in July.
“A week ago, our team ended up isolated in the middle of a Russian offensive,” the men’s unit later posted in a June 15 tweet that announced their capture.
After they were taken prisoner, Drueke and Huynh were held in the Donetsk People’s Republic, a region in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatists.
Russian state TV aired interviews with the men in which they sympathized with Russia, but their families said they were under obvious duress.
“My name is Alexander Drueke, I am against war,” Drueke said in a video interview that Russia tweeted. “Ya protiv voyny,” he adds, Russian for “I am against war.”
Russia said shortly after their capture that they would face a firing squad, because they were considered “soldiers of fortune,” the Daily Mail reported.