Two U.S. citizens held captive in Russian-occupied separatist regions in Ukraine re-entered the free world Wednesday, the work of negotiations by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, according to the State Department.
Russian-controlled separatist armies in eastern Ukraine took veterans Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27, captive in June after they had gone to Ukraine as volunteer fighters resisting the Russian invasion, Reuters reported. Their families confirmed their release earlier on Wednesday before Saudi and Ukrainian officials announced a prisoner exchange involving eight other foreign fighters as well as 200 Ukrainian troops.
“The United States welcomes the negotiated prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia, which includes two U.S. citizens captured while serving in Ukraine’s military,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement after the formal announcement from Ukraine.
The ten foreign POWs released include five U.K. citizens, a Swede, a Croatian and a Moroccan, according to top Zelenskyy advisor Andriy Yermak.
“We also thank our Saudi partners for helping to spearhead this humanitarian initiative,” Blinken said, adding that a team from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh had greeted the two Americans upon their arrival.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry announced the success of the Saudi-led effort “based on a priority given by” bin Salman and “resulting from [bin Salman’s] continued engagement with the relevant countries.”
The U.S. initially had no leads on Drueke’s and Huynh’s whereabouts after they disappeared from their squadron in the Kharkiv region, CBS News reported. Russian media later released a video depicting the pair, although the Kremlin denied knowledge of any Americans held captive in Russia.
An American who fought alongside the two in Ukraine told CBS the group “knew that by going over there and serving for the government of Ukraine, that little to no protections would be extended to us and that the United States government would be powerless to help us.”
The U.K. confirmed the release of Aiden Aslin, a British prisoner who had garnered a significant social media following documenting his experience as an at-will soldier in Ukraine, earlier Wednesday. Many feared Aslin would not make it home after a court in the pro-Russian Donetsk People’s Republic sentenced him and two other foreign fighters to death in June for serving as mercenaries on behalf of Ukraine, the BBC reported.
Prime Minister Liz Truss said the development was “hugely welcome” and ended “months of uncertainty and suffering for [the British nationals] and their families.”
On Tuesday, leaders of four regions in Eastern Ukraine, where many of the foreign POWs were apparently being detained, announced plans to hold a vote on acceding to the Russian Federation.
The Saudi Embassy to the U.S. did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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