Two American veterans who were reported missing in June have returned home safely after being held captive for three months by Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.
Alex Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27, traveled to Ukraine separately as volunteers to help fight against the invading Russian forces. The two went missing on June 9 and were held captive by Russian-backed separatist forces in the Donbas region.
Drueke and Huynh were released to the U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia as part of a prisoner exchange. They arrived in the U.S. at JFK International Airport in New York on Friday.
Before reaching the U.S., Dianna Shaw, an aunt of Drueke, released a joint statement announcing that the two veterans were “safely in the custody of the U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia and after medical checks and debriefing they will return to the states.”
“We’re looking forward to spending time with family and we’ll be in touch with the media soon,” Drueke told The Associated Press on Friday. “Happy to be home.”
Shaw confirmed that Drueke and Huynh were among the 10 prisoners from Morocco, the U.S., the U.K., Sweden and Croatia. Saudi Arabia arranged the release of the prisoners held captive by the Donetsk People’s Republic, the country said on Wednesday.
Although the two veterans traveled to Ukraine separately in April, they bonded while volunteering after learning that they are both from Alabama. Huynh, a Vietnamese American who served in the U.S. Marines, was making wedding plans with his fiancée before he traveled to Ukraine.
“I know it wasn’t my problem, but there was that gut feeling that I felt I had to do something,” Huynh told The Decatur Daily. “Two weeks after the war began, it kept eating me up inside and it just felt wrong. I was losing sleep. … All I could think about was the situation in Ukraine.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed the release of Drueke and Huynh in a statement on Wednesday, where he thanked Ukraine for including “all prisoners of war, regardless of nationality, in its negotiations.”
He also thanked Saudi Arabia for the country’s help in spearheading the “humanitarian initiative and facilitating the return of ten foreign nationals.”
Blinken reiterated the dangers of traveling to Ukraine and also noted that the U.S. government cannot guarantee the safety of volunteers.
“Americans who travel to Ukraine to participate in the fighting there face significant risks and the United States cannot guarantee their safety,” Blinken said. “We encourage U.S. citizens to devote their energies towards the many other opportunities that exist to help the country of Ukraine and its people.”
Featured Image via WFAA