FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 23, 2022
Contact: Dianna Shaw, 205-764-3434, firstname.lastname@example.org
American POWs Released from Russian-Controlled Captivity Visit Washington, D.C., Advocate for Support to Ukraine
Alex Drueke and Andy Huynh, American veterans who served in the Ukraine Army and were held captive by Russian-backed forces, traveled to Washington, D.C. from Alabama the week of November 14 for a series of meetings with government and humanitarian agency officials.
Drueke and Huynh met with Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, at the Embassy of Ukraine on Monday, November 14. Also present were Major General Borys Kremenetskyi, Defense Attaché, and Kostyantyn Vorona, Head of Consular Division.
The Ambassador presented Drueke and Huynh with photography books and commemorative coins. Drueke and Huynh thanked the Embassy officials for making sure they were included on Ukraine’s official list of Prisoners of War.
Ambassador Markarova spoke with the men at length about the torture they endured at the hands of Russian operatives in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions and of Ukraine’s need for continued supplies of weapons.
“The Ambassador and the Major General stressed to us that weapons and air equipment are their most critical needs,” Drueke said. “Winter is a crucial strategic time because snow, ice and mud will slow down the ground operations. Ukraine needs air strength right now to continue pushing back against the Russian invasion. The best thing the U.S. and other countries can do is keep sending aircraft and missiles,” Drueke said.
“I’m glad we could thank them in person for taking the lead in the effort to get us released,” Huynh said. “We knew our own government wasn’t in a position to negotiate for our release,” he said. “First, we weren’t there as representatives of the U.S., we went on our own and joined the Ukrainian Army. Second, we were imprisoned the majority of time in Donetsk, and the Russian operatives there were trying to use us to legitimize their presence,” Huynh said.
Russian operatives in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) currently control a large area of the Donetsk oblast. The U.S. does not recognize the sovereignty of the DPR and has no diplomatic relations with it. Direct contact between the U.S. and the DPR during the men’s captivity would have constituted formal recognition, which Drueke and Huynh say they would have not wanted.
“We might not be helping Ukraine in the way we originally intended, but if we can help Americans understand the importance of Ukraine standing up to Russia right now, then all we’ve gone through is worth it,” Drueke said.
“Ukrainians value their freedom the way Americans do,” Huynh said. “They are standing between all of western Europe and Russia’s authoritarianism. If Ukraine falls, who knows which countries are next. So Alex and I agree we have no regrets,” Huynh said.
Drueke and Huynh met with Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) as his guests for lunch in the U.S. House of Representative’s Dining Room on Tuesday, November 15.
“Mr. Aderholt asked excellent questions about the Ukrainian military leadership and morale,” Drueke said. “I was glad to convey to him what Ambassador Markarova and Major General Kremenetskyi said about their most crucial needs,” Drueke said.
The men also met with Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) in her office on Wednesday, November 16. “She wanted to know a lot of the same things Mr. Aderholt did, and it was great to see that they are on the same page,” Huynh said.
“Ms. Sewell asked if we thought the funding from the U.S. is being effectively applied and tracked, and from what we know of Ukraine’s leadership, we do,” Drueke said.
Drueke and Huynh also met with members of the U.S. Department of State and an agency involved in humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.
“The State Department meeting was very meaningful to me,” said Drueke’s mother Bunny Drueke, who accompanied her son. “Our contact at the State Department checked in with us almost every single day while the guys were POWs, even if they didn’t have anything new to tell us,” Mrs. Drueke said.
Joy Black, Huynh’s fiancée, her mother Darla Black, and Drueke’s aunt Dianna Shaw also accompanied the men on the trip.
“I’m just so grateful to all the people who had a part in making sure Andy and Alex were freed,” Miss Black said. “All the military and government officials and diplomats, and also the many Americans who prayed and called their elected officials to make sure our guys weren’t forgotten. Mr. Aderholt said his office got more than 14,000 calls, emails and letters,” Miss Black said.
“Now we need everyone to keep praying for the Ukrainians who are in harm’s way, and keep telling our congresspeople to keep up support for Ukraine,” said Ms. Darla Black.
Drueke and Huynh were serving in the Ukraine Army when the unit they were assigned to came under heavy fire on June 9. The families first learned the men were missing in action on June 13, and received photographic evidence of their captivity two days later. On September 21, they were among the ten foreign nationals included in a Saudi-mediated prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine. Ambassador Markarova had assured the men’s families three weeks prior to their release that they were on the official list of Ukraine Army POWs.
Photo 1: Huynh, Markarova, Drueke, and Kremenetskyi meet at the Embassy of Ukraine (Credit: Volodymyr Riznichenko)
Photos 2 and 3: Drueke and Huynh with Rep. Aderholt; Drueke, Huynh and family members with Rep. Sewell (Credit: Dianna Shaw)