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2 Americans and 5 British captured by Russian-backed forces in Ukraine released in prisoner swap

Relatives of Americans Alexander John-Robert Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, who were captured in June while fighting for Ukraine north of Kharkiv, confirmed they had been freed. British Prime Minister Liz Truss tweeted that five British citizens had been released. In addition, three prisoners of Moroccan, Swedish and Croatian nationality were released in the exchange, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said.

“It is very welcome news that five British citizens held by Russian-backed proxies in eastern Ukraine are being returned safely, ending months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families,” Truss said.

Drueke’s aunt released a statement confirming the release of her nephew, 39, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Huynh, 27, from Hartselle, Alabama.

“We are delighted to announce that Alex and Andy are free. They are safely in the custody of the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia and after medical checks and debriefing, they will return to the United States. We deeply appreciate the prayers of everyone and especially the close communication and support of our elected officials, Ukrainian Ambassador Markarova and our members of the US Embassies in Ukraine and Saudi Arabia and the US Department of State,” said Diana Shaw, spokesperson of both families and Dreuke’s aunt.

The families did not know that the prisoner exchange was underway.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the 10 released prisoners were “released as part of a Russian-Ukrainian prisoner-of-war exchange” and taken to Saudi Arabia.

CNN previously reported that the two Americans were captured during a battle near Kharkiv. Its pro-Russian captors, the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), is a self-proclaimed Russian-backed republic that has ruled a breakaway part of Ukraine’s Donetsk region since 2014.

Bunny Drueke, Alexander’s mother, and Huynh’s fiancĂ©e, Joy Black, told CNN in June that selflessness and love for America drove their loved ones’ decision to go to Ukraine.

“He is one of the most loyal Americans one would hope to meet and he was proud to serve his country,” Drueke said of his son. “He said, ‘Mom, I really need to go and help fight in Ukraine because if Putin doesn’t stop there, he won’t be satisfied, he’ll get emboldened and eventually the Americans will be threatened.'”

Black said at the time that her fiancĂ© “didn’t go there for selfish reasons or anything like that. He really had this pain in his heart and this great burden on him to go and serve the people however he can.”

This story had been updated with additional details on Wednesday.

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