US veterans held captive in Ukraine have been freed, family says
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC/Gray News) - The family of Alex Drueke, a former U.S. soldier being held captive by Russian-backed forces, said he has been freed, along with fellow American Andy Huynh.
Drueke’s aunt, Dianna Shaw, confirmed to WBRC that the family received a call Wednesday morning from the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia, that both Drueke and Huynh had been freed.
Shaw said the woman from the Embassy asked Lois “Bunny” Drueke several questions in order to confirm she was his mother. The woman then put Alex Drueke on the phone and allowed him to talk to his mother. Bunny said, “He sounded strong, spoke clearly, was thinking clearly, sounded like himself.”
The family doesn’t know arrangements yet on how they are going to get the men home.
“We are thrilled to announce that Alex and Andy are free,” a statement from the Drueke family said. “They are safely in the custody of the US embassy in Saudi Arabia and after medical checks and debriefing they will return to the States.”
The family of Drueke said they “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.”
Congressman Robert Aderholt said the family of Andy Huynh informed his office that the two veterans have been freed.
“My office is working to get more information from the United States Department of State about the health of these men and how soon they will be brought home to their families in the U.S.,” Aderholt said. “I want to say how thankful and relieved I am that they have been freed. Having met with Joy and Darla Black, I know they are beyond relieved and excited for this news. I know we all look forward to seeing them back safely, on American soil.”
Drueke and Huynh were serving in the Ukrainian army when the unit they were assigned to came under heavy fire on June 9. The families first learned the men were missing in action on June 13, and received evidence of their captivity two days later.
They were among 10 prisoners, including five British nationals, released by Russian-backed separatists after talks involving Saudi Arabia, relatives and government officials said Wednesday.
The Saudi embassy released a statement saying it had mediated the release of the prisoners from Morocco, the U.S., the United Kingdom, Sweden and Croatia.
The United Kingdom said five British nationals had been released, and lawmaker Robert Jenrick said one of them was Aiden Aslin, 28, who had been sentenced to death after he was captured in eastern Ukraine.
“Aiden’s return brings to an end months of agonising uncertainty for Aiden’s loving family in Newark who suffered every day of Aiden’s sham trial but never lost hope. As they are united as a family once more, they can finally be at peace,” Jenrick tweeted.
British Prime Minister Liz Truss heralded the release on social media.
“Hugely welcome news that five British nationals held by Russian-backed proxies in eastern Ukraine are being safely returned, ending months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families,” she tweeted.
Copyright 2022 WBRC via Gray Media Group, Inc. The Associated Press contributed to the report. All rights reserved.