2 Americans captured by Russian-backed forces are back on US soil after being released

Americans Alexander John-Robert Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh arrived in New York after being released earlier this week in a prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine brokered by Saudi Arabia. Their families have said they believe the men are in good health.

“We know they’re talking, they’re breathing, they’re ambulatory and they look like themselves,” Darla Black, the mother of Huynh’s fiancee, told CNN on Friday.

The two men were captured in June while fighting for Ukraine in a battle near Kharkiv. Their pro-Russian captors, the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), are a self-declared Russian-backed republic that has ruled a breakaway part of Ukraine’s Donetsk region since 2014.
The families of Drueke and Huynh, CNN previously reported, had not spoken to the Alabama men during their months-long incarceration until they received unexpected phone calls from the US embassy in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

“I have your son next to me,” Bunny Druek recalled a woman at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia telling him.

The families did not know the prisoner exchange was in the works.

“My mind couldn’t understand because there was no warning. It just came out,” Drueke’s mother told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

Huynh’s fiancee, Joy Black, told CNN’s Erin Burnett that Huynh ordered spaghetti and meatballs — a meal he’d craved since his time in Ukraine — as soon as he returned to Alabama.

Even after their capture, their families say the men said they had no regrets about going to fight the Ukrainians.

“Alex told me no, no regrets,” his aunt, Dianna Shaw, told CNN. “They really want people to understand that Ukraine needs our help. They need the help of all democratic nations. They need the democracies to come together and push (Russian President Vladimir) Putin back.”

Four Russian-occupied areas began voting in referendums on Friday to join Russia, according to their separatist leaders, in a move that raises the stakes of an invasion by Moscow. The referendums, which are illegal under international law and have been dismissed as fraudulent by Western governments and Kyiv, could pave the way for the unification of Russian territories, and could frame Moscow’s ongoing counteroffensive in Ukraine as an attack on Russia.
President Joe Biden said Friday that the United States will never allow Russian referendums in occupied parts of Ukraine.

“The US will never recognize Ukrainian territory as anything other than part of Ukraine. Russia’s referendums are a sham, a false pretext for trying to forcibly annex parts of Ukraine and a flagrant violation of international law, including the United Nations Charter,” Biden. he said in a statement.

CNN’s Shawna Mizelle and Sam Fossum contributed to this report.