Two American soldiers among 10 foreign fighters released by Russia

Ten foreign fighters, including two Americans, who had joined the war effort in Ukraine before being captured and held by Russian forces, were released on Wednesday as part of a prisoner of war exchange between Russia and Ukraine.

American veterans Alexander John-Robert Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, were captured by Russian forces in June and held by their proxies in the contested Donbass region, which remains at the heart of the war.

“We are pleased to announce that Alex and Andy are free,” said Dianna Shaw and Bunny Drueke, Alexander Drueke’s aunt and mother, in a statement saying they will be returning to the States after checks and debriefings.

Drueke’s family said they really appreciate the prayers and support from the public. They also expressed their gratitude to Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the US, the US embassies in Ukraine and Saudi Arabia, and the efforts of the State Department.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi government had successfully negotiated the release of the foreign fighters and transferred them to Saudi Arabia, where they are “facilitating procedures for their safe return home”.

Foreign Minister Antony Blinken thanked Saudi Arabia for leading the effort.

“The United States welcomes the negotiated prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia, which includes two U.S. citizens captured while serving in the Ukrainian military,” Blinken said in a statement Wednesday. “The United States values ​​Ukraine, including all prisoners of war, regardless of nationality, in its negotiations, and we look forward to reuniting these U.S. citizens with their families.”

According to the Saudi media ministry, the 10 foreign fighters are five British fighters, two Americans and one Moroccan, one Swede and one Croat.

British Prime Minister Liz Truss said in a tweet that she was delighted to hear that British nationals had been released.

“Very welcome news that five British nationals being held by Russian-backed proxies in eastern Ukraine will be safely returned, ending months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families,” she said tweeted.

MP Robert Jenrick said his constituent Aiden Aslin was among those released.

Along with British national Shaun Pinner and Moroccan national Saaudun Brahim, Aslin was sentenced to death by a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in June after he was captured by Russian forces.

“Aiden’s return ends months of agonizing uncertainty for Aiden’s loving family in Newark, who suffered every day from Aiden’s sham trial but never lost hope,” Jenrick said wrote on Twitter. “Being reunited as a family, they can finally find peace.”

Scores of non-Ukrainians have traveled to the country hoping to aid its defenders against the Russian invasion. Ukraine’s armed forces had gone so far as to set up their own Foreign Legion to organize the sudden surge of ex-soldiers traveling to Ukraine to join the fight.

Drueke and Huynh, both from Alabama, disappeared near Kharkiv in June, well before a successful counteroffensive liberated the northeastern city from Russian occupation. They are considered the first Americans captured during the war between Ukraine and Russia.

Her relatives said the two were inspired to join the war effort after watching television violence committed in the early days of the invasion.

In a video released on Russian television shortly after NBC News confirmed her captivity by Kremlin-backed separatists in Donbass, Drueke promised his mother that he would come home as soon as possible. He mentioned his dog, a Great Dane named Diesel, before ending the video message with a wink.

“Mom, I just want to let you know that I’m alive and I hope to be home as soon as possible,” he said at the time. “So love Diesel for me. Loving You.”

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