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Russia releases 2 Alabama veterans held as prisoners of war in Ukraine

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Two Alabama men captured earlier this year in Ukraine have been released from Russian custody.

Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh and Alexander Drueke, both veterans from Alabama, were reported missing by their families following a fight in the Kharkiv area back in June.

After they were captured by Russian forces, the two were detained in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), a Russian-backed separatist regime in eastern Ukraine, Reuters reported.

The two men are now in the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia, according to a joint statement from their families, the network reported.

“We are thrilled to announce that Alex and Andy are free,” the statement reads. “They are safely in the custody of the US embassy in Saudi Arabia and after medical checks and debriefing they will return to the States.”

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had been in direct contact with the Kremlin and Ukraine as part of the mediation efforts for the release of the prisoners, which included five British citizens, one Moroccan, one Swede, one Croat, and Huynh and Drueke, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

Huynh, 27, of Lawrence County, left the U.S. in early April to fight with Ukrainian forces. The son of Vietnamese immigrants, he had served as a U.S. Marine for four years and, before his departure, was a student at Calhoun Community College.

Huynh’s fiancée, Joy Black, got a call from Saudi Arabia this morning, to let her know that Drueke and Huynh were at the U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia, CNN reported. Then Huynh called her.

“It kind of knocked us off our feet but this is the best outcome we could have asked for,” Black’s mother, Darla Black, told CNN. “The only thing confirmed for us is that they are at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia and that they are free.”

Drueke, a 39-year old from Tuscaloosa, is an Iraq War veteran who told his family he had been teaching Ukrainian troops how to use American-made weapons.

Dianna Shaw, Drueke’s aunt, told The Washington Post Drueke was expected to receive a medical screening later in the day.

“I never dreamed that it was a possibility that the Saudi government would be able to do something like this,” Shaw told The Post. “But any port in a storm.”

The Saudi government said the release came as part of a mediation effort involving ten prisoners of war- including Moroccan, British, Swedish and Croatian nationals.

“We deeply appreciate everyone’s prayers and especially the close communication and support of our elected officials, Ukrainian Ambassador Markarova, and our members of the US embassies in Ukraine and Saudi Arabia and the U.S. Department of State,” the families’ statement said.

U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt said his office is working to get more information.

“I want to say how thankful and relieved I am that they have been freed,” Aderholt said in a statement. “Having met with Joy and Darla Black, I know they are beyond relieved and excited for this news. I know we all look forward to seeing them back safely, on American soil.”

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell said she was inspired by the “strength and resilience” of Drueke’s mother, Lois “Bunny” Drueke, and his aunt, Dianna Shaw.

“Words cannot express my joy and relief at this wonderful news,” Sewell said.

British Prime Minister Liz Truss in a tweet thanked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for his work to free the five British prisoners.

“Russia must end the ruthless exploitation of prisoners of war and civilian detainees for political ends,” Truss tweeted.

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