Alex Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh — two Americans who were recently freed by the Russians, after being part of the prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine — recently detailed their experiences as prisoners of war to The Washington Post.
Drueke, 40, and Huynh, 27, were among the 215 POWs who were released in exchange for 55 Russian prisoners, including Victor Medvedchuck, leader of the banned pro-Russia political party in Ukraine.
The Post discussion marked Drueke and Huynh's first extensive interview since being released by the Russians on Sept. 21.
Here are the touchstone moments from the interview:
- Huynh says he left the United States on April 8 to join a humanitarian group helping in Ukraine. Drueke told the Post he left four days later, asserting his experience during the Iraq War and familiarity with Western weapons could prove helpful to Ukrainian forces. Also, Drueke confirmed he had been living with family members in Tuscaloosa, Ala., after being diagnosed as a 100-percent combat disabled veteran with post-traumatic stress.
- Drueke, a U.S. Army veteran, and Huynh, who served in the Marines, acknowledged to the Post they felt compelled to act after seeing early wartime images of Ukrainian families fleeing their homes as Russian forces leveled Ukraine cities, in hopes of toppling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's Western-backed government.
- According to the Post, Drueke and Huynh, who met in Ukraine, went to the country despite stern warnings from the U.S. State Department that taking up arms against Russian forces was "unsafe and ill-advised."
- Drueke and Huynh joined the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine, a force comprising hundreds of Americans, Europeans, and other foreign nationals who responded to public entreaties from Zelenskyy.
- Within days of reaching Ukraine, Drueke and Huynh signed contracts with the foreign legion in Lviv, joining the same battalion and receiving AK-74 rifles for training far from the fighting. According to the Post, the two Americans also brought their own camouflage uniforms and other equipment.
- Shortly after, Drueke and Huynh requested a release from their military contracts. For the next few weeks, according to the Post, they traveled the country by bus and train in what they called "vacation mode," meeting with Ukrainian military officials about possible opportunities.
- With time running out on their 90-day visas, Drueke and Huynh connected in the Ukraine capital city of Kyiv with a representative from Task Force Baguette, a military unit that included French soldiers and other Westerners. According to the Post, that unit promised the Americans a Ukrainian military contract, allowing them to stay in the country and fight. Drueke and Huynh were sent east and issued Czech-made CZ 208 rifles, to a base close to Russia's border.
- On the morning of June 9, the unit reportedly left Kharkiv in a pickup truck and two small sport-utility vehicles, heading north. Drueke recalls their assignment was to launch small drones and watch for Russian military forces.
However, the unit was ambushed, and everyone reportedly scattered after the fight. Drueke, Huynh and their team leader began searching for a machine-gunner and sniper who'd apparently gone missing, only to learn that other members of the unit had taken their vehicles — along with most of their food and water — and returned to base without them, according to Drueke.
- After being "abandoned" by their own military unit, the Post reports Drueke and Huynh subsequently determined that hiking back to the base in Kharkiv was their best chance of survival.
- Drueke and Huynh spent a "terrifying" 104 days in captivity. According to the Post, the American soldiers recalled being "interrogated, subjected to physical and psychological abuse," and given little food or clean water.
- During the early portion of the capture, Drueke and Huynh were taken into Russia and placed in a detention complex dotted with tents and "ringed by barbed wire." After that, their Russian captors moved the Americans to a "black site," where Drueke says the beatings got worse.
- The two men estimate they lost approximately 30 pounds apiece during the ordeal, while also incurring injuries that were evident in the "red and purple welts" still present where their wrists had been bound, according to the Post.
- Drueke and Huynh, who each expressed no regrets about their actions, told the Post they are grateful to be alive and free. They supported one another during the ordeal, and built up a friendship through their captivity.
- Suedi Murekezi, who shared a cell with Drueke and Huynh for weeks but was not included in the prisoner swap, is among the handful of U.S. citizens currently detained by Russia.
"Alex and I never did this to become famous,” Huynh said. “We never wanted to become famous."
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