BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Two Alabama veterans who have been held captive in Russia since June have now been released, a family member of one of the men confirmed to CBS 42 Wednesday.
Back in June, Alex Drueke and Andy Huynh were captured by Russian forces while they were volunteering with a Ukrainian army unit in Kharviv. Drueke, of Tuscaloosa, and Huynh, of Trinity, are believed to have been the first two American prisoners of war since the Russian conflict in Ukraine.
“We are thrilled to announce that Alex and Andy are free,” said Dianna Shaw, Drueke’s aunt. “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.”
Shortly after their capture, footage of them was aired on Russian propaganda outlet RT, where they were seen telling their families that they were safe.
Drueke served two tours in Iraq while Huynh served for four years in the U.S. Marine Corps.
In an interview with CBS 42’s Jen Cardone Tuesday, Drueke’s family said they continued to hold out hope that he and Huynh would be released someday.
“Alex had said once I bet everyone’s forgotten about us,” mother Bunny Drueke said. “We wanted them when they come home to see people didn’t forget about you.”
Shaw said the family was thankful for the prayers and support of the community during the veterans’ time in captivity, as well as the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. embassies in Ukraine and Saudi Arabia for their work in safely getting them out of Russia.
On Wednesday, Bunny got a phone call around 10:30 a.m. from Saudi Arabia while she was reading to her grandson.
“I thought I don’t know anybody from Saudi Arabia,” Bunny said. “But, under the circumstances I’m not turning down any foreign phone calls so I thought what the heck I’ll go ahead and answer.”
Bunny said her mind was spinning in circles after speaking to a representative from the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia who put Alex on the phone.
“I didn’t talk to him very long but he sounded good,” Bunny said. “He sounded happy, he sounded strong. He said he couldn’t tell me the details of how he got there right now. At the moment I didn’t care but to know that he was safe and sound.”
She said she always assumed there would be a gradual buildup until his return but said once he gets checked out with Huynh at the hospital, they plan to return together in the next two to three days.
“We are so grateful to you all for not forgetting about them and making sure that America didn’t forget about them, too,” Bunny said.
According to Bunny, Huynh wants a Pepsi and McDonald’s hamburger when he gets home. She said Alex likes roast and potatoes so she plans to make a trip to the store Thursday to get the ingredients to make it for him.