Russia releases two Americans captured fighting in Ukraine

Drueke family | Joy Black

(NEW YORK) -- Two Americans who were being held captive by Russian-backed forces after volunteering to fight with Ukrainian forces have been released, their families said.

Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, both military veterans from Alabama, were reported missing by their families following a fight in the Kharkiv area of Ukraine in June.

They are currently in the custody of the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia, their families announced in a joint statement on Wednesday.

"We are thrilled to announce that Alex and Andy are free," the families said. "They are safely in the custody of the US embassy in Saudi Arabia and after medical checks and debriefing they will return to the States."

"We deeply appreciate everyone's prayers 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," the statement continued.

The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday that "mediation efforts" on behalf of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman led to the release of 10 prisoners of war -- among them U.S. nationals -- as part of an exchange between Russia and Ukraine.

The prisoners of war also included Moroccan, U.K., Swedish and Croatian nationals, the ministry said.

Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., said in a statement that his office is working to get more information from the U.S. State Department on the health of the men and how soon they will be back in the U.S.

"I want to say how thankful and relieved I am that they have been freed," he said. "I know we all look forward to seeing them back safely, on American soil."

Drueke's family told ABC News they were able to speak with Drueke on the phone for about 10 minutes on Wednesday from Saudi Arabia, during which Drueke said he and Huynh were at a hospital being evaluated and were then going to be taken to an apartment to sleep.

Drueke, an Army veteran, and Huynh, a former Marine, both left Alabama for Ukraine in April and met there. After their families reported that they had lost contact with them in early June, photos started appearing online via Ukrainian and Russian social media that showed the men in captivity.

Russian state-controlled news outlets also released videos of the two men in captivity.

During calls with his family, Drueke read statements that identified his captors as forces from the Donetsk People's Republic, a Russian-backed region in Ukraine, his family said.

The Kremlin claimed that the Americans were mercenaries and had "committed crimes."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had previously called both men "heroes" and said he would fight for their release.

"We'll fight for them and get them back, and of course they will come back to their families," he said in June.

A senior State Department official told ABC News their freedom is the result of months of negotiations by Ukraine, and in recent weeks the U.S. had been pushing Kyiv to include the Americans in their dealings.

The official confirmed Prince Mohammed had played an important role in ensuring the success of the swap.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken thanked Saudi Arabia and Ukraine for their roles in freeing the two American citizens.

"The United States is appreciative of Ukraine including all prisoners of war, regardless of nationality, in its negotiations, and we look forward to these U.S. citizens being reunited with their families," he said in a statement.

The senior State Department official said the two men were in the care of the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia and would be on their way home "before too long."

ABC News' Shannon K. Crawford contributed to this report.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022 at 1:19PM by Mark Guarino and Meredith Deliso, ABC News Permalink