Jeronimo Nisa / The Decatur Daily, left; and Lois “Bunny” Drueke / Dianna Shaw / AP
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. Two US veterans who went missing three months before fighting Russia with Ukrainian forces were among 10 prisoners, including five British nationals, freed by Russian-backed separatists, officials said. said on Wednesday. .
Alex Drueke, 40, and Andy Huynh, 27, went missing in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine near the Russian border on June 9. They went to Ukraine alone and became friends because they were both from Alabama.
Their family announced their release in a joint statement from Dianna Shaw, an aunt of Drueke.
“They are in safe custody of the US embassy in Saudi Arabia and after medical examination and interrogation, they will return to the states,” the statement said.
Shaw said both men had spoken to relatives and were in “pretty good condition,” according to a US Embassy official.
President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, welcomed his release and thanked the governments of Ukraine and Saudi Arabia for working to secure the release of detainees. “We wish our citizens to be reunited with their families,” he said in a tweet.
In a later statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US “appreciates Ukraine to include all prisoners of war, regardless of nationality, in its negotiations” and thanked the partners Saudi government cooperation secured the release of 10 prisoners, including two Americans.
The Saudi embassy released a statement saying it had helped secure the release of 10 prisoners from Morocco, the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Croatia. Shaw confirms that Drueke and Huynh are part of the group.
The UK says five British nationals have been released, and lawmaker Robert Jenrick said one of them is Aiden Aslin, 28, who was sentenced to death after he was arrested in the east. Ukraine.
“Aiden’s return brings an end to days of painful turmoil for Aiden’s loving family in Newark, who endured every day of Aiden’s sham trial but never lost hope. they are united as a family again, they can finally be at peace,” Jenrick tweeted.
British Prime Minister Liz Truss foretold this news on social networks.
“Extremely welcome news that five British nationals led by Russian-backed proxies in eastern Ukraine are being brought back to safety, ending months of turmoil and suffering for them and their families,” she wrote. on Twitter.
Moroccan media reported the released prisoners included Brahim Saadoun, 21, who was sentenced to death in June after being accused of terrorism and attempting to overturn the constitutional order. Captured by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine, the court declared him a mercenary, while Saadoun’s father said he had enlisted in Ukraine’s regular army.
Russian state television earlier reported that Drueke and Huynh were being held by Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. The US does not recognize the sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic and has no diplomatic relations with them, prompting others to make efforts to liberate these people.
Before that, Drueke joined the Army at the age of 19 after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and he believed he could help Ukrainian fighters because of his training and experience in using weapons. Drueke left in mid-April.
Druke’s mother received a call from Saudi Arabia on Wednesday morning and an embassy employee gave the phone to the man, Shaw said.
“He picked up the phone and said, ‘Hi mom, that’s your favorite baby,'” she said.
Huynh moved to northern Alabama from his native California two years ago and lives about 193 kilometers from Drueke. Before leaving for Europe, Huynh told his local newspaper, The Decatur Daily, that he couldn’t stop thinking about the Russian invasion.
“I know it’s not my problem, but there’s this painful feeling that I feel I have to do something,” Huynh told the newspaper. “Two weeks after the war started, it continued to eat me and I didn’t feel well. I lost sleep. … All I could think about was the situation in Ukraine.”
Huynh told his fiance he wanted a meal from McDonald’s and a can of Pepsi-Cola when he got home, Shaw said.
The two men bonded over their family status and were together when their unit caught fire. Relatives spoke to Drueke several times by phone while the two were in custody.