Two American military veterans fighting for Ukraine were captured by Russians and facing executions.
They have now been released in a surprising, high-profile exchange of prisoners of war brokered by Saudi Arabia. This also involved key Ukrainian commanders and a pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch close to Putin.
Two Americans’ Heroism in Defending Ukraine
The two Americans who spent three months in Russian captivity are 39-year-old Alexander John-Robert Drueke and 28-year-old Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, both natives of Alabama.
Drueke is a former US Army veteran with time served in Iraq. Huynh is a former US Marine.
Earlier this year, they joined Ukraine’s 20,000-strong international volunteers’ corps, which was formed barely weeks after bloodthirsty Russian dictator Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine with 200,000 troops.
Drueke and Hyunh’s capture occurred in the Eastern Ukrainian region of Kharkiv after their small unit encountered a much larger Russian detachment.
They were caught after managing to disable a Russian battle tank with a hand grenade.
After Drueke and Hyunh fell into Russian captivity, authorities of the Russian proxies sentenced to death two British citizens who had been captured earlier while fighting for Ukraine.
Brief videos released by the Russians shortly after Drueke and Hyunh were captured showed traces of torture. In them, they condemned the war, but were clearly under duress.
Source: Putin made a personal appeal to Erdogan to facilitate the release of Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, during a meeting in Sochi on 5 August.
Erdogan later that month visited Lviv, where he met Zelensky, struck a deal on 200 Ukrainian POWshttps://t.co/GXk9GGb0wV
— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) September 22, 2022
Correcting #Zelesnky adviser confirms major prisoner exchange: 215 Ukrainians (mainly Azov fighters) exchanged for 55 Russians and Putin's friend #Medvedchuk, with foreign POWs, including three sentenced to death also freed. Turkey and Saudi Arabia were the brokers.
— Robyn Dixon (@RobynDixon__) September 21, 2022
Arrival of Ukrainian POWs to Saudi Arabia as an exchange of POWs took place between Ukraine and Russia after Saudi mediation earlier today.
In exchange, Ukraine reportedly handed over Viktor Medvedchuk to Russia (pro-Russian politician/oligarch who was arrested for treason). pic.twitter.com/ub4l29Akbx
— CaucasusWarReport (@Caucasuswar) September 21, 2022
200 Azovstal defenders on Medvedchuk
5 Azovstal commanders on 55 Russian POWs
and seems 10, foreigners – via Saudi effortshttps://t.co/4xzIyGJuo6
— Liveuamap (@Liveuamap) September 21, 2022
We returned 215 people from Russian captivity: 188 defenders of #Azovstal and Mariupol. 108 Azov warriors, national guards, marines, border guards, policemen, territorial defense, Security Service employees. They’re safe now. We remember and try to save everyone. 1/3
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) September 22, 2022
High-Profile Prisoner Exchange of Nearly 300 People
The two American fighters for Ukraine’s freedom were released by Russia on Thursday, together with seven other foreign volunteers: five British and one each from Morocco, Croatia, and Sweden.
After their release, they were flown to Saudi Arabia, whose Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it brokered a POW prisoner swap between Ukraine and Putin’s regimes, CNN reported.
A statement put out by Drueke’s aunt confirmed her nephew, a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was released together with Huynh, who is from Hartselle, Alabama.
The two of them made it safely to the US Embassy in the Saudi capital Riyadh and were about to fly home to the United States.
The aunt, Diana Shaw, who is a spokesperson on behalf of both men’s families, revealed the relatives had no idea about the prisoner exchange deal.
The POW swap between Ukraine and Russia, though, was far bigger than the ten foreign volunteer fighters. It involved a total of 280 individuals, The Daily Mail reported. It saw some very high-profile figures handed over to the other side.
One of the most notable of those is Viktor Medvedchuk, a rich pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch, i.e tycoon, who was supposed to become the leader of Ukraine if it got conquered by Russians.
Medvedchuk has been very close to Putin; the Russian dictator is godfather to his daughter.
The oligarch was kept in Ukraine since 2021 under house arrest on charges of treason. Likewise, he was caught in the spring disguised as a Ukrainian military officer while trying to flee the country.
He has now been handed over to Putin, together with other Russian POWs.
Last night’s unexpected prisoner exchange saw 200 Ukrainian military freed in return for MP Viktor Medvedchuk, 5 commanders of the Mariupol defence for 55 Russian servicemen, and 10 foreign captives were sent to Saudi.
The commanders will spend the rest of the war in Turkey. pic.twitter.com/IVSoz8ps7Q
— Liz Cookman (@liz_cookman) September 22, 2022
Prisoner swap between #Russia & #Ukraine with Saudi mediation:
215 Ukrainian PoWs in exchange for 55 Russian PoWs
Ukraine traded the pro-#Russian opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk
Russia traded 5 Azov commanders
10 foreign PoWs are freed by Russia too pic.twitter.com/ouZ6T55GQ2
— @374News (@374News) September 22, 2022
Another Hero from Mariupol, Mykhailo "Beard" Dianov, returns home.
The whole world saw his photo from Azovstal. pic.twitter.com/9FgMfMdmuZ
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) September 21, 2022
These are the indicative estimates of Russia’s combat losses as of Sept. 22, according to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/2vxP087wce
— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) September 22, 2022
This article appeared in MorningPress and has been published here with permission.