Freedom for Ten

According to Reuters, ten foreign prisoners of war have been released by the Russian government today. They are citizens of five different nations: two Americans, two Brits, one Swede, one Moroccan, and one Croat. The men had been captured in Ukraine during the ongoing seven-month-long war there. The release was brokered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. According to a statement by the Saudi Foreign Ministry, “The relevant Saudi authorities received and transferred them from Russia to the kingdom and are facilitating procedures for their respective countries.”

Here is a translation of the Arabic that appears in the above Tweet: Ministry of Foreign Affairs: In light of His Highness’s concerns #ولي_العهد and in continuation of his efforts to adopt humanitarian initiatives towards the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, His Highness succeeded in mediating the release of ten prisoners from five countries as part of a prisoner exchange process.”

Images of the former prisoners getting off the plane and shortly after that. The Saudis shared the video on Twitter showing the men meeting Saudi dignitaries.

British Prime Minister Liz Truss took to Twitter and called the release “hugely welcome news” following “months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families.” She thanked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “for his efforts to secure the release of detainees, and Saudi Arabia for their assistance.”

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly expressed his relief as well, stating that the Russians had also released a civilian in addition to the prisoners of war. He reminded reporters that Paul Urey, a British aid worker, had been detained by the DPR in late April and died in their custody. His captors said he succumbed to chronic health conditions and “stress.” He was 45 years old.

Robert Jenrick, British Minister of State at the Department of Health and Social Care, revealed that Aiden Aslin was one of the two British citizens given his freedom. Earlier this year, Aslin made international headlines as he was sentenced to death by the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), a breakaway region in eastern Ukraine. ITV News reports that along with Mr. Aslin, one of the men freed by the Russians was Sean Pinner, who had also been sentenced to death by a pro-Russian court.

Sweet Home Alabama

The two Americans to be freed were both from the state of Alabama. Alexander John-Robert Drueke, age 39, is from Tuscaloosa, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, age 27, is from Hartselle. Both men were taken prisoner north of Kharkiv near the town of Izbytske in June while fighting for the Ukrainians. Before being captured, Mr. Drueke told his mother that he was teaching Ukrainians how to use American weapons. Drueke’s mother, Bunny Drueke, spoke with CNN back in late June. She relayed details of a phone conversation that her son had with officials of the US State Department. The State Department told her that he seemed under duress as he spoke and clearly was being told what to say. He noted that the DPR was holding him and that they were “willing to negotiate.” Apparently, the Saudi Crown Prince had negotiated the release of the ten noted above for an unspecified number of Russian prisoners of war. Still, I have read nothing about that at this point.

Mr. Drueke said he had been held separately from Mr. Huynh, but he had seen him a few days earlier and reported that he “looked OK.” The pro-Russian Serbian nationalist YouTube channel HelmCast released a 50-minute video featuring interviews with both American POWs. When Drueke was asked if he objected to how the DPR treated him, he mentioned that he had been beaten a few times.

Drueke was a Staff Sergent in the US Army who did two tours of duty in Iraq. He was a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) specialist. The Army website explains the job of a CBRN specialist “The CBRN specialists conduct CBRN reconnaissance and surveillance; perform decontamination operations; conduct obscuration operations; conduct CBRN sensitive site exploitation; and operate and perform operator maintenance on assigned CBRN defense and individual CBRN protective equipment.” It is not known if he was functioning in that role or not with the Ukrainians.

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Screenshot of Alexander John-Robert Drueke as he appeared on a YouTube video made by pro-Russian Serbian nationalist channel HelmCast
Screenshot of Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, a former US Marine, from his YouTube interview made by pro-Russian Serbian nationalist channel HelmCast

Huynh joined the Marine Corps at 19 and served four years. He was taking robotics classes at Calhoun Community College when he decided to take a break from his studies to go overseas to help in Ukraine. There is a good chance that both Americans were fighting with the International Legion, a unit that Ukraine created for foreign citizens who wanted to help defend Ukraine again the Russians.

A Tweet was sent out in June by members of Task Force Baguette, a group of prior service French and American fighters. Their message said that two Americans had gone missing a week earlier. This information was later confirmed by Ukrainian intelligence.

We at SOFREP are glad to hear of the safe release of all of the former prisoners of war and wish them nothing but the best in their future endeavors.