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Americans in Russia-Ukraine prisoner swap wondered if death was near

thehourlynews 1 week ago 0
20220925 214352


As they were led from their prison cell deep in Russian-occupied Ukraine, Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh contemplated their uncertain fate: were they about to be released or would they be killed?

Days after his capture in June, the Kremlin proclaimed that the men, both US military veterans, were alleged war criminals and refused to rule out that they could face the death penalty. In a phone call with her aunt on Thursday, Drueke said that at the time it seemed that things “it could go either way.”

“That was one of those moments,” said the aunt, Dianna Shaw, “where it was a punch to the stomach for me.”

The Americans were freed this week as part of a prisoner swap between the Kyiv and Moscow governments, a deal as surprising as it is extensive. They returned to the United States on Friday.

In addition to Drueke, 40, and Huynh, 28, the Russian government agreed to release eight other foreign nationals who had joined the war on behalf of Ukraine, as well as 215 Ukrainians. Fifty five The Russian fighters were released in return, along with Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian opposition politician who has such warm relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin that Putin is believed to be the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter.

Americans freed in Russia-Ukraine prisoner swap

Details of the radical agreement, mediated with participation from the governments of Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have been slow in coming.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters covering the UN General Assembly. in New York that the prisoner exchange was the result of “diplomatic dealing that I carried out” with Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, calling it is an “important step” toward ending the war, according to a transcript of his remarks released by state media. ankara too played a key role in brokering a groundbreaking deal this summer that allowed grain exports to resume after Russia’s naval blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, but Erdogan has so far been unable to secure a direct meeting between Putin and Zelensky.

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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, where Drueke and Huynh were first taken after their release, is also credited with facilitating the release of the foreign nationals. A senior member of the Saudi government on Thursday. said Muhammad’s efforts illustrate their “proactive role in reinforcing humanitarian initiatives”. The US government has expressed gratitude to the crown prince for his efforts to free the Americans, but relations between the two countries remain strained over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and, in particular, the alleged role of Mohammed orchestrating the plot to kill Saudi American journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In Russia, there was outrage among some nationalists who saw the deal as a betrayal. Medvedchuk was once seen as a potential replacement for Zelensky, should Russian forces succeed in overthrowing the government in Kyiv and installing a puppet regime. Several of the Ukrainians freed in exchange for Medvedchuk and other Russians were members of the far-right Azov Regiment, a military force that Putin has branded as Nazis.

In Ukraine, where the Azov forces have been they cheered his courage during bloody Russia siege of Mariupol: the deal was concluded.

A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomacy, said: “You are telling Putin to choose to trade his buddy and one of his long-term proxies in Ukraine, Medvedchuk, for the heroes of Mariupol,” calling the move further proof of how the Russian leader prioritizes himself over the interests of the Russian people.

“Even so [war] it is horrible for Ukraine… it is horrible for the Russian people,” the official said. “Putin has chosen his vain imperial ambition over the needs of his people.”

Kyryl Budanov, who directs Ukraine’s main military intelligence directorate said some of the freed Ukrainians had been “subjected to very cruel torture” while in captivity. It is unclear whether Drueke and Huynh endured such treatment, although there are indications that both went through stages of physical degradation that may take time to reverse.

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Drueke’s aunt said her nephew hasn’t shared many details with his family about how his captors treated him and Huynh. She said Drueke and Huynh have some “minor, minor, minor health considerations” and are both “very dehydrated.” Drueke appears to have lost weight.

The two men arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York shortly before noon Friday and were greeted by a State Department representative who whisked them through customs, Shaw said. They were photographed smiling upon arrival.

Footage of the captives’ release that was broadcast earlier this week on German television showed Drueke being assisted by what appeared to be medical personnel as he walked. However, he was carrying his own bag. Photos taken on Friday show some skin damage around Drueke’s eyes.

Drueke, a former US soldier, and Huynh, a Marine Corps veteran, went missing near the city of Kharkiv on June 8 while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces. They were moved several times during their captivity and were likely held in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, Drueke’s family believes.

Drueke and Huynh appear to have been together during their captivity, according to Shaw. For at least part of their time as prisoners, they were also held in the same cell as British citizen John Harding, who was also released this week as part of the exchange.

After their release, the American veterans briefly stayed in an apartment in Saudi Arabia as they took their first steps toward recovery. The former captives are well aware, Shaw said, that a return to normality could be a long way off.

“He didn’t sound remorseful to me at all, he seemed excited to be going home,” Shaw said. “He still admires the Ukrainian people very much.”

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Kareem Fahim in Beirut; Robyn Dixon and Mary Ilyushina in Riga, Latvia; and John Hudson in New York contributed to this report.

War in Ukraine: what you need to know

The last: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of troops in a September 21 address to the nation, framing the move as an attempt to defend Russian sovereignty against the West that seeks to use Ukraine as a tool to “divide Russia”. and destroy Russia. .” Follow our live updates here.

The fight: A successful Ukrainian counter-offensive forced a major Russian retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region in recent days, as troops fled towns and villages they had occupied since the war’s first days and abandoned large amounts of military equipment.

Annexation referendums: Organized referendums, which would be illegal under international law, will take place from September 23-27 in the breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, according to Russian news agencies. The Moscow-appointed administration will hold another organized referendum in Kherson starting Friday.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground since the beginning of the war; here we present some of his most impressive works.

How can you help: Here are ways Americans can help support the Ukrainian people, as well as what people around the world have been donating.

Read our full coverage of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive videos.

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