TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — Next week marks one year since two Alabama veterans were captured by Russian forces in Ukraine.

Alex Drueke went to Ukraine last April to help Ukrainian forces against Russia. He and Andy Huyhn from Hartselle were captured during an operation.

The story of their capture made national headlines as their families kept their stories alive fighting to get them back home. Ultimately, Saudi Arabia helped coordinate their release in a prisoner swap last September.

The last time Drueke’s family heard from him before he got captured was when he sent his mom a message last June saying he was going dark for the next day or two. From that moment on he survived torture as a prisoner of war over 100 days – fighting to get back home.

“In the back of my head I’m processing this experience,” Drueke said. “This is an existential crisis, this is a fight for their existence, and they’re motivated to win.”

Drueke now advocates for Ukraine to get the help it needs to put an end to the war against Russia.

“If we give them what they need to win this war they’re going to win it and they’re going to win it really quick,” Drueke said. “We just have to stop dragging our feet on getting it to them.”

After several weeks in Russian captivity, Drueke eventually contacted the state department and then later his mom but was forced to do so in propaganda videos.

“It was a delicate situation of trying to exchange information without the Russians knowing we were exchanging information,” Drueke said. “A lot of times I got beaten for some of the things that I said, but sometimes you take your beatings.”

The Drueke family and Andy Huyhn’s family kept their stories alive for three months. Drueke said he knew they were doing many interviews daily but did not understand the magnitude of it until he came home and took over being interviewed by media outlets.

“My mom, my aunt and Joy’s mom, Darla – they moved mountains to be able to keep our names alive,” Drueke said. “I’m incredibly impressed by how strong those women are.”

Drueke said he believes ultimately it was how much Alabamians contacted their representatives to get them home. He said those same efforts nationwide could help put an end to the war.

“I’m part Ukrainian now, that’s my country, also,” Drueke said. “I want that country to be free.”

Drueke has made two trips to Washington, D.C., networking to explain the resources he says are needed in Ukraine. He said the Ukrainians need F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircrafts and ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) long-range missiles not just to defend against the invasion, but to give them an upper hand to win.

He is actively involved with local Ukraine groups and is hopeful to eventually make 90-day rotations once or twice a year to Ukraine to continue training opportunities.

Drueke also said he will be Huyhn’s best man at his wedding in August.