Welcome home! US military veterans captured by Russia while fighting in Ukraine arrive in NYC and are reunited with loved ones, after being freed through Saudi-brokered prisoner swap
- Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, and Alexander Drueke, 39, were both captured by the Russians while fighting in Ukraine
- The pair, both military veterans from Alabama, who did not know each other before, were released from Russian captivity on Wednesday
- An Alabama congressman tweeted: ‘I’ve been informed that Andy and Alex are back on American soil. These are definitely answered prayers!’
- The pair landed at New York City’s JFK airport around noon, and will spend the night in the city with family before returning home to Alabama on Saturday
- Saudi Arabia brokered a swap with Russian-backed separatists that included eight other prisoners from four countries, including five British nationals
Two American veterans captured by the Russians while fighting in Ukraine were returned to the United States on Friday, to be united with their overjoyed families.
Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, and Alexander Drueke, 39, were both freed on Wednesday as part of a Saudi-brokered prisoner swap.
The pair landed back at New York’s JFK airport around noon on Friday, and were taken to the TWA Hotel by the terminal.
‘I’ve been informed that Andy and Alex are back on American soil,’ tweeted Robert Aderholt, an Alabama congressman.
‘These are definitely answered prayers!’
Alexander Drueke, 39, right, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, are seen on Friday arriving at the hotel by JFK airport. The pair flew in from Saudi Arabia, after the Saudis brokered a deal to release them from Russian captivity
The pair, military veterans who did not know each other until they went to Ukraine, were both captured in June
Drueke and Huynh are seen leaving the airport on Friday. They were the first Americans fighting for Ukraine known to have been captured since the war began on February 24
Huynh and Drueke’s relatives were traveling to New York to meet them, and they were expected to return to Alabama on Saturday.
The pair went missing in early June in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine, which is near the Russian border.
They were the first Americans fighting for Ukraine known to have been captured since the war began on February 24.
Huynh’s fiancée, Joy Black, 21, told USA Today earlier this week that she was at work when her phone showed an incoming call from Saudi Arabia, which she did not answer.
She then received a voicemail from the U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia, saying the men had been freed.
She said she was ‘happy for the first time in like four months.’
Drueke’s aunt Dianna Shaw said they had not been told the swap was being prepared.
‘I asked Alex yesterday if he knew he was being freed and he told me that they did not understand what was going on for several hours,’ she said on Friday.
Drueke is pictured shortly after his capture. He served as a chemical operations specialist in the Army Reserve from 2002 to 2014 and deployed to Kuwait in 2004 and to Iraq in 2008
Huynh, pictured in June, said that he traveled to Ukraine in April to fight alongside the Ukrainians
Early in the war, Ukraine created the International Legion for foreign citizens who wanted to help defend against the Russian invasion.
Drueke served as a chemical operations specialist in the Army Reserve from 2002 to 2014 and deployed to Kuwait in 2004 and to Iraq in 2008.
Huynh spoke to his local newspaper, the Decatur Daily, shortly before flying to Eastern Europe in April.
He was born and raised in Orange County, California, to Vietnamese immigrants and moved to northern Alabama two years ago to be closer to his fiancee.
He explained that he was studying robotics at Calhoun Community College but could not stop thinking about Russia’s invasion. He had enlisted in the Marines when he was 19 and served for four years, though he did not see active combat.
‘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.’
He said he decided to fly out once he learned that young Ukrainians were being drafted into service.
‘Right when they turned 18, they were forced to enlist in the military to defend their homeland,’ Huynh said.
‘Honestly, that broke my heart. I would say that is probably the moment where I decided that I have to do something.’