BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WHNT) – Two Alabama veterans held captive overseas landed at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport on Saturday. Andy Huynh and Alex Drueke went missing while fighting Russian with Ukrainian forces on June 9.
During their three months of captivity, Huynh and Drueke had little contact with their families, but on Wednesday, their families received a phone call saying that the two men were coming home.
“We felt excitement and shock,” said Huynh’s future mother-in-law Darla Black. “Most of us are still in a bit of shock because it came so suddenly and so unexpectedly.”
Huynh and Drueke disappeared in the Ukrainian region of Kharkiv three months ago. Drueke’s aunt, Diana Shaw, said she and other members of the family reached out to U.S. Reps. Robert Aderholt and Terri Sewell. Shaw said, within days, she was in contact with members of the U.S. State Department.
“We would go weeks without hearing anything,” Shaw said. “The State Department would go weeks without any new news. Those were low times.”
On Wednesday, Huynh and Drueke’s families got word that the two were out of Russian custody, safety in Saudi Arabia, and would soon be on a plane headed for the United States. Huynh and Drueke were among 10 prisoners that were released after the Saudi Prince helped negotiate a prisoner-of-war exchange between Russia and Ukraine.
“We do know they were in pretty good shape when they arrived in Saudi Arabia,” Shaw said. “They had been blindfolded for a long time. You might notice that Alex still has some marks on his face from the tight blindfold. They were dehydrated. They were severely dehydrated. Alex said he was blindfolded for 17 hours during the journey, and they did not immediately know what was happening.”
Huynh and Drueke arrived in Newark on Friday. Shortly after noon on Saturday, they landed in Birmingham where they were embraced by family members, including Shaw and Black.
“It’s good to be home,” Drueke told the press as he left the airport.
Shaw said Drueke told his family he was forced to make a series of propaganda videos while in Russian custody. His phone calls with family were also monitored. He told Shaw he does not want people to believe the things said in those videos. Instead, he wants to stress his support of the Ukrainian people and their fight against Russia.
“They felt the need to preserve democracy wherever that was in peril and so they did go but despite that, our government has been a phenomenal partner to us,” Shaw said.
Shaw said Huynh and Drueke plan to spend several quiet weeks at home with family.