2 Americans captured by Russian-backed forces are back on US soil after their release

Written by

Americans Alexander John-Robert Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh arrived in New York City after being released earlier this week in a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine that was brokered by Saudi Arabia. Their families said they believe the men are in good health.

“We know they’re talking, they’re breathing, they’re ambulatory, and they sound like themselves,” Darla Black, the mother of Huynh’s fiancee, told CNN on Friday.

It was the two men captured in June while fighting for Ukraine in a battle near Kharkiv. Their pro-Russian captors, the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), are a Russian-backed, self-declared republic that has ruled a breakaway part of Ukraine’s Donetsk region since 2014.
Drueke’s and Huynh’s families, CNN previously reported, had not spoken to the Alabama men during their stay months in prison until on Wednesday they received unexpected phone calls from the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia.

“I have your son standing right next to me,” Bunny Drueke recalled a woman from the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia telling her.

The families did not know that the prisoner exchange was underway.

“My mind just couldn’t comprehend it because there had been no warning. It just came out of the blue,” Drueke’s mother told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

Huynh’s fiancee, Joy Black, told CNN’s Erin Burnett that Huynh asked for spaghetti with meat — a meal he had been craving since he was in Ukraine — as soon as he returns to Alabama.

Even after being captured, their families say the men had said they did not regret going over to fight the Ukrainians.

“Alex told me emphatically no, no regrets,” his aunt, Dianna Shaw, told CNN. “They really want people to understand that Ukraine needs our support. They need the support of all democratic nations. They need democracies to come together and push (Russian President Vladimir) Putin back.”

Four Russian-occupied territories began vote Friday in referendums to join Russia, according to their separatist leaders, in a move that raises the stakes for Moscow’s invasion. The referendums, which are illegal under international law and dismissed as a sham by Western governments and Kiev, could pave the way for Russian annexation of the territories, giving Moscow an opportunity to hit the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive as an attack on Russia itself.
President Joe Biden said Friday the United States will never recognize Russia’s referendums in the occupied parts of Ukraine.

“The United States will never recognize Ukrainian territory as anything other than part of Ukraine. Russia’s referendums are a sham — a false pretext to try to annex parts of Ukraine by force in flagrant violation of international law, including the UN Charter,” Biden said in a declaration.

CNN’s Shawna Mizelle and Sam Fossum contributed to this report.

About the author

Leave a Comment