Two American veterans held by Russian separatists in Ukraine since June returned to the United States on Friday, arriving at JFK International Airport shortly after noon, a relative of one of the men told USA TODAY.
Andy Tay Ngoc Huynh, 27, and Alexander Druk, 39, were both released Wednesday as part of a larger prisoner exchange after months of detention in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region. Both men are from Alabama and are military veterans who wanted to help Ukrainian troops.
Diana Shaw, Drew’s aunt, said the men will spend time with family over the next day or two. Druck’s mother, Bunny Druck, and Whin’s fiancee, Joy Black, were still en route Friday afternoon after a delay in arriving in New York, Shaw told USA Today.
U.S. government officials helped get the couple to a hotel safely, Shaw said. The families plan to drive back to Alabama as soon as Saturday.
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US Representative Robert Aderholt of Alabama The men announced their return on Twitter on FridayWrote that he was “informed that Andy and Alex are back on American soil. These are definitely answered prayers!”
This week, Huynh and Druck were first transferred to Saudi Arabia, which helped facilitate a swap with Russian-backed separatists that included eight other prisoners from four countries, including five British nationals. The family members said that the man underwent a medical examination in Saudi Arabia.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday. But on Wednesday, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan thank you Saudi Arabia on Twitter To help facilitate the exchange. “We look forward to reuniting our citizens with their families,” he said.
Black, Huynh’s fiancee, told USA Today earlier this week that he was at work when his phone showed an incoming call from Saudi Arabia. He let it go to voicemail. message? The US embassy told him the men had been released.
Black, 21, said she was “happy for the first time in like four months.”
Shaw said the swap was not foreseen.
“I asked Alex yesterday if he knew he was being released and he told me they didn’t understand what was going on for a couple of hours,” Shaw said Friday.
About their capture:Two US military veterans felt compelled to fight Russia. They were detained in Ukraine.
Huynh and Druck didn’t know each other in Alabama but became friends in Ukraine, where they both went to help Ukraine in its war with Russia, family members said.
Huynh served as a Marine from 2014 to 2018. Drueke served as a chemical operations specialist in the Army Reserves from 2002 to 2014 and was deployed to Kuwait in 2004 and Iraq in 2008.
During their capture, two Britons and a Moroccan were executed by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine after prosecutors claimed they were not entitled to the protections of mercenaries and prisoners of war.
Chris Kenning is a national news writer. Contact him at email@example.com and on Twitter @chris_kenning.