Two U.S. veterans released by Russian-backed forces in prisoner swap

Two US veterans were among more than 200 prisoners of war transferred Wednesday through an exchange between Russia and Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

Why it matters: The Kremlin earlier said in June it was not ruling out the death penalty for Alex Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh, the two US veterans who were among those released.

  • A total of 205 Ukrainians and 10 foreign volunteers were freed in exchange for 55 Russian soldiers and Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian politician who was captured trying to escape the country in April, said Andriy Yermak, head of the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on social media.
  • Among the liberated Ukrainians were soldiers and commanders who, according to Yermak, endured months of defense of a steel mill in the now-ruined port city of Mariupol at the start of the war.
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The two US veterans both from Alabama, volunteered to fight with the Ukrainian military but were captured in Kharkiv Oblast in June and held by the Russian-backed, self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).

  • “We are pleased to announce that Alex and Andy are free,” said Dianna Brown Shaw, an aunt of Drueke, in a statement released on social media on Wednesday.
  • “You are safely in the custody of the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia and will be returned to the States after medical screening and debriefing,” Brown Shaw added in her statement.

What you say: “The United States values ​​Ukraine, including all prisoners of war, regardless of nationality, in its negotiations, and we look forward to reuniting these U.S. citizens with their families,” Blinken said.

  • “We reiterate that U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict and isolation of U.S. citizens in Ukraine by Russian government security officials.”
  • The Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman brokered the exchange, which included prisoners from the United Kingdom, Morocco, Sweden and Croatia.
  • It did not specify what the self-proclaimed DPR or the Lugansk People’s Republic or Russia received from the exchange.
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United Kingdom Prime Minister Liz Truss tweeted on Wednesday that five British nationals were released, “ending months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families”.

  • “I thank [Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] for his efforts to secure the release of detainees and Saudi Arabia for his support,” Truss added.
  • The DPR also sought the death penalty against three foreign volunteers – two Britons and one Moroccan – in June.
  • Aiden Aslin, one of the British nationals sentenced to death by the DPR, was included in the exchange on Wednesday. Robert Jensicka member of the British Parliament said on social media.
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The big picture: Drueke and Huynh were among an unknown number of Americans who volunteered to thwart Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

  • At least two Americans have been killed in fighting in Ukraine, although the exact number is currently unknown.
  • Earlier Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of reservists for the invasion, sparking protests in dozens of Russian cities.

go deeper: Over 1,300 Russians arrested in protests against partially military mobilization

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with statements from Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken and Robert Jenrick, a Member of the UK Parliament.

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