Two U.S. military veterans who were captured by Russian-backed forces while fighting in Ukraine earlier this year have been released in a prisoner exchange, officials said on Wednesday.
Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27, were among 10 prisoners released by Russian-backed forces as part of a prisoner exchange. Saudi Arabia mediated the exchange, according to officials, The Associated Press reported.
The Telegraph first reported Drueke and Huynh were taken prisoner after running into a Russian armored unit in June. Teammates who reportedly fought alongside Drueke and Huynh told The Telegraph that they had entered an area they thought was clear, only to find themselves face to face with two Russian T-72 tanks and multiple BMP-3 armored vehicles.
Drueke is a U.S Army veteran who previously served in Iraq. Huynh is a U.S. Marine veteran. Both had volunteered to fight alongside a regular Ukrainian Army unit.
The two veterans’ families announced their release in a joint statement.
“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,” the statement read.
An official with the U.S. embassy said both Drueke and Huynh have spoken with their families and are in “pretty good shape.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the U.S. “welcomes the negotiated prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia, which includes two U.S. citizens captured while serving in Ukraine’s military. ”
“The United States is appreciative of Ukraine including all prisoners of war, regardless of nationality, in its negotiations, and we look forward to these U.S. citizens being reunited with their families,” the statement continued.
Blinken also reiterated the government’s warning that U.S. citizens “should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict and the singling out of U.S. citizens in Ukraine by Russian government security officials.”
“Americans who travel to Ukraine to participate in the fighting there face significant risks and the United States cannot guarantee their safety,” the statement added. “We encourage U.S. citizens to devote their energies towards the many other opportunities that exist to help the country of Ukraine and its people.”