Two American veterans captured by the Russians while fighting in Ukraine were returned to the United States on Friday to be reunited with their happy families.
Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, and Alexander Drueke, 39, were released Wednesday as part of a prisoner swap brokered by Saudi Arabia.
The couple landed back at New York’s JFK Airport around noon Friday and were taken to the TWA Hotel by the terminal.
“I have been informed that Andy and Alex are back on US soil,” Robert Aderholt, a congressman from Alabama, tweeted.
‘These are definitely answered prayers!’
Alexander Drueke, 39, right, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, are seen arriving at the hotel from JFK airport on Friday. The couple flew in from Saudi Arabia, after the Saudis brokered a deal to free them from Russian captivity.
The couple, military veterans who did not know each other until they went to Ukraine, were captured in June.
Drueke and Huynh are seen leaving the airport on Friday. They were the first Americans fighting for Ukraine known to have been captured since the war began on February 24.
Family members of Huynh and Drueke were traveling to New York to join them and were expected to return to Alabama on Saturday.
Both disappeared in early June in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine, near the Russian border.
They were the first Americans fighting for Ukraine known to have been captured since the war began on February 24.
Huynh’s fiancee, Joy Black, 21, told USA Today earlier this week that she was at work when her phone showed an incoming call from Saudi Arabia, which she did not answer.
He then received a voicemail from the US embassy in Saudi Arabia, saying the men had been released.
He said he was “happy for the first time in about four months”.
Drueke’s aunt, Dianna Shaw, said they had not been told the trade was in the works.
“Yesterday I asked Alex if he knew he was being released and he told me they didn’t understand what was going on for several hours,” he said Friday.
Drueke appears in the photo shortly after his capture. He served as a chemical operations specialist in the Army Reserve from 2002 to 2014 and deployed to Kuwait in 2004 and Iraq in 2008.
Huynh, pictured in June, said he traveled to Ukraine in April to fight alongside the Ukrainians.
At the beginning of the war, Ukraine created the International Legion for foreign citizens who wanted to help defend against the Russian invasion.
Drueke served as a chemical operations specialist in the Army Reserve from 2002 to 2014 and deployed to Kuwait in 2004 and Iraq in 2008.
Huynh spoke to his local newspaper, the Decatur Daily, shortly before he flew to Eastern Europe in April.
He was born and raised in Orange County, California, the son of Vietnamese immigrants, and moved to northern Alabama two years ago to be closer to his fiancée.
He explained that he was studying robotics at Calhoun Community College but couldn’t stop thinking about the invasion of Russia. He had enlisted in the Marine Corps when he was 19 years old and served for four years, although he did not see active combat.
“I know it wasn’t my problem, but I had this feeling that I had to do something,” Huynh told the Decatur Daily.
“Two weeks after the war started, it was still eating me up inside and I felt bad. I was losing sleep.
“All I could think about was the situation in Ukraine.”
He said he decided to fly once he learned that young Ukrainians were being drafted into the service.
“Just when they turned 18, they were forced to enlist in the army to defend their homeland,” Huynh said.
‘Honestly, that broke my heart. I’d say that’s probably the moment I decided I had to do something.’