Americans in Russian-Ukrainian prisoner swap wonder if death is imminent

As they are led out of their cells deep in Russian-occupied Ukraine, Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh ponder their uncertain fate: Are they about to be released – or will they be killed?

Days after arrest in June, Kremlin announced man, both American Veterans, Yes suspected of being a war criminal and refusing to rule out the possibility of facing the death penalty. At that moment, it seemed like something was going on, Drucker said in a phone call with his aunt on Thursday. “It can go either way.”

“It was one of those moments,” said Aunt Diana Shaw, “and it was a gut feeling for me.”

The Americans were released on Wednesday as part of a prisoner swap between the governments in Kyiv and Moscow in a shocking but massive deal. In addition to Drueke, 40, and Huynh, 28, the Russian government agreed to release eight other foreign nationals who fought on behalf of Ukraine in the war, as well as 215 Ukrainians.Fifty-five In exchange, the Russian fighters were released along with Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian opposition politician who was so close to Russian President Vladimir Putin that Putin is considered godfather to Medvechuk’s daughter.

Americans in huge Russian-Ukrainian prisoner swap Friday

Full transaction details, participation in mediation News from the governments of Saudi Arabia and Turkey continued to flow on Thursday.Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reporters covering the UN General Assembly In New York, prisoner exchange It was the result of my “diplomatic exchange” with Putin and Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, who called for It was an “important step” towards ending the war that began seven months ago, according to a record of his comments published by state media.Ankara too Played a key role in brokering a breakthrough deal this summer that allowed food exports to resume after the Russian navy blocked Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, but so far Erdogan has been unable to secure a relationship between Putin and Zelensky direct meeting.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (where Drueke and Huynh are recovering) is also believed to have contributed to the foreigners’ release.On Thursday, a senior member of the Saudi government Say Muhammad’s efforts Describe his “active role in supporting humanitarian initiatives”.The U.S. government has thanked the crown prince for his efforts to secure the release of the two Americans, but relations between the two countries remain strained by Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, notably Mohammed’s alleged mastermind The plot to murder Saudi-American journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In Russia, some nationalists were outraged, who saw the deal as a betrayal. Medvechuk had been seen as a potential replacement for Zelensky, and the Russian army successfully overthrew the Kyiv government and established a puppet regime. Several of the Ukrainians released in exchange for Medvechuk and other Russians were members of the far-right Azov Corps, an army that Putin has labelled Nazis.

In Ukraine – where Azov troops were stationed Cheers for their courage during bloodshed in Russia Siege of Mariupol – the deal is celebrated.

“It tells Putin to choose to trade his cronies and his longtime proxy in Ukraine Medvechuk for Mariupol’s hero,” a senior State Department official said on condition of anonymity, discussing sensitive diplomacy. The move is further evidence of how Russian leaders put themselves above the interests of the Russian people.

“Even if this [war] Too bad for Ukraine…too bad for the Russian people,” the official said. “Putin chose his own vain imperial ambitions over the needs of the people. “

kyril budanov, who leads Ukraine’s chief military intelligence service said some liberated Ukrainians “suffered very cruel torture” during their captivity.It is unclear whether Drueke and Huynh experienced such treatment, although there are signs that both go through stages of physical degeneration that may take time to reverse.

Drueke’s aunt says her nephew hasn’t shared a lot Learn more about how his kidnappers treated him and Huang with his family.she says Drueke and Huynh had some “minor, minor, minor health concerns” and both were “very dehydrated,” noting that the family wasn’t sure when Drueke and Huynh would be ready to return to Alabama on a 14-hour flight from Saudi Arabia .

The emaciated Drucker appeared to be assisted by medical staff as he walked, according to a video of the prisoner’s release broadcast by German television network Deutsche Welle. However, he was carrying his own bag.

On June 8, former U.S. soldier Drucker and Marine Corps veteran Hoon went missing near the city of Kharkiv while fighting alongside Ukrainian troops. Drucker’s family believes they have been transferred several times during their captivity and are likely to be held in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.

According to Shaw, Drueke and Huynh appear to have been together during their captivity. They were also held in the same cell as British national John Harding, who was also released this week as part of an exchange, at least for some of their time as prisoners.

Since their release, the U.S. veterans have been sharing an apartment in Saudi Arabia as they take their first steps toward recovery. Shaw said the former captive was keenly aware that returning to normal could be a long road.

“He has no regrets to me at all — he sounds happy to be home,” Shaw said. “He still has great admiration for the Ukrainian people.”

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

Ukraine war: what you need to know

Newest: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of the military in his Sept. 9 national address. On the 21st, the move was characterized as an attempt to defend Russia’s sovereignty against the West, which was trying to use Ukraine as a tool to “divide and destroy Russia.” Follow us here for live updates.

Fight: A successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in recent days has forced Russia into a massive retreat in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, as troops flee cities and villages they have occupied since the early days of the war and abandon vast quantities of military equipment.

Merger referendum: The staged referendum, which is illegal under international law, will begin on September 1. According to the Russian news agency, from the 23rd to the 27th local time, the separate regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. The Moscow-appointed government will start another staged referendum in Kherson on Friday.

photo: Photographers for The Washington Post have been on the ground since the war began — some of their most influential work.

How you can help: Here’s how Americans can help support the people of Ukraine, and people around the world have been giving.

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