Two Alabama veterans who were held captive in Ukraine after volunteering to help fight are officially free and on their way home, family members confirm.
Alex Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27, went missing in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine near the Russian border on June 9. Both had traveled to Ukraine on their own and became friends because both are from Alabama, KTLA sister station WHNT reports.
“We are thrilled to announce that Alex and Andy are free,” Dianna Shaw, aunt of Alex Drueke told Nexstar’s WHNT. “They are safely in the custody of the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia … after medical checks and debriefing, they will return to the States.”
Family members confirmed the pair’s release to WHNT on Wednesday afternoon.
“We deeply appreciate everyone’s prayers and especially the close communication and support of our elected officials,” added Shaw. “Ukrainian Ambassador Markarova, and our members of the U.S. Embassies in Ukraine and Saudi Arabia and the U.S. Department of State.”
Saturday, Sept. 17, marked 100 days since Drueke and Huynh decided to volunteer to assist the Ukrainian Army.
The families of both men recently spoke with WHNT about the struggle over the past months as they have tried coping and working to free both men.
The Saudi embassy released a statement saying it had mediated the release of 10 prisoners from Morocco, the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Croatia. Shaw confirmed that Drueke and Huynh were part of the group.
The United Kingdom confirmed that five British nationals had been released, and lawmaker Robert Jenrick said one of them was Aiden Aslin, 28, who had been sentenced to death after he was captured in eastern Ukraine.
Drueke joined the Army at age 19 after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and he believed he could help Ukrainian fighters because of his training and experience with weapons, Shaw said previously. Drueke pondered whether to go for a few weeks, she said, and then made up his mind and left in mid-April.
Huynh moved to north Alabama two years ago from his native California and lives about 120 miles (193 kilometers) from Drueke. Before leaving for Europe, Huynh told his local newspaper, The Decatur Daily, he couldn’t stop thinking about Russia’s invasion.
“I know it wasn’t my problem, but there was that gut feeling that I felt I had to do something,” Huynh told the paper. “Two weeks after the war began, it kept eating me up inside and it just felt wrong. I was losing sleep. … All I could think about was the situation in Ukraine.”
It’s not clear when exactly Drueke and Huynh will return to the U.S.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.