Alabama Vets Who Became Fast Friends Fighting in Ukraine Released in Prisoner Swap
Two US veterans who had been missing since June were released on Wednesday, Sept. 21, in a prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists. The two went missing on June 9 near the Russian border in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine as they fought alongside Ukrainian forces.
Alex Drueke, 40, an Army veteran, and Andy Huynh, 27, a Marine veteran, were among 10 foreign prisoners released in a prisoner swap facilitated by Ukraine and Saudi Arabia, according to The Associated Press.
Drueke and Huynh were freed together on Wednesday. According to a statement released by Drueke’s aunt Dianna Shaw on behalf of both families, the vets will soon be on their way back to Alabama.
“The families of Alex Dreuke and Andy Huynh are thrilled to announce that they are free,” the statement reads. “They are safely in the custody of the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia. After medical checks and debriefing they will return to the United States.”
Drueke’s mother, Bunny Drueke, received a phone call from her son,who was at the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday. “I went ‘Alex?’ and I heard him say, ‘Hi Momma, it’s me, your favorite child,’” she said, according to CNN. “I’m free,” he said.
Alex Drueke joined the Army at 19 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In a June interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Bunny said that her son had left for Ukraine in April, not to fight but to help train Ukrainian soldiers.
Huynh served in the Marines for four years and volunteered in Ukraine because he couldn’t stop thinking about the war.
“I know it wasn’t my problem, but there was a gut feeling that I had to do something,” Huynh told the Decatur Daily before leaving for Ukraine, also in April.
Drueke and Huynh didn’t know each other before traveling to Ukraine, according to the AP, but they became fast friends because they were both from Alabama, living only about 120 miles apart.
Drueke lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Huynh had moved to Hartselle, Alabama, two years ago from his home state of California to be closer to his fiancee, Joy Black.
Bunny talked about her son’s friendship with Huynh in a June interview. “I want everyone to know, first of all, they’re together. Andy and Alex — we don’t want one to come home without the other,” Bunny said. “They were best buddies there, and we want everybody to remember it’s not just one person there.”
Huynh’s fiancee, Black, also received a phone call on Wednesday. “It was just so amazing to finally get to hear his voice again and speak to him,” Black told CNN. She hopes Huynh will be back in Alabama on Friday to enjoy the spaghetti dinner he requested.
“I feel like I’m floating, I’m so happy,” Bunny told CNN.