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Russia Ukraine conflict

Two Americans among 10 prisoners released to Saudi Arabia from Ukraine

The Saudi Crown Prince had been in direct contact with the Kremlin and Ukraine as part of the mediation efforts for the release of the prisoners, which included five British citizens, one Moroccan, one Swede, one Croat, and two Americans.

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A plane carrying 10 prisoners of war arrived from Russia to Riyadh on Wednesday following successful mediation efforts by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) and sources familiar with the matter.

The Saudi Crown Prince had been in direct contact with the Kremlin and Ukraine as part of the mediation efforts for the release of the prisoners, which included five British citizens, one Moroccan, one Swede, one Croat, and two Americans.

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The prisoners were captured in what the Russians call separatist regions in Ukraine. The SPA reported that the POWs will now be transferred to their home countries.

The two Americans released were US Army veteran Alexander Drueke, 39, and 27-year-old Marine Corps veteran Andy Huynh, family members told Reuters. They were captured in June while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces near Kharkiv.

“I never dreamed that it was a possibility that the Saudi government would be able to do something like this,” Drueke’s aunt told The Washington Post. “But any port in a storm.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia and confirmed the two US citizens were captured while serving in Ukraine’s military. Blinken thanked Ukraine for including all prisoners of war, regardless of nationality, in its negotiations.

“We also thank our Saudi partners for helping to spearhead this humanitarian initiative and facilitating the return of ten foreign nationals, including the two US citizens greeted earlier today by our embassy team in Riyadh. I conveyed my gratitude to Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan in a call this morning,” Blinken said in a statement.

The top US diplomat reiterated previous calls for US citizens to refrain from traveling to Ukraine to fight. “We encourage US citizens to devote their energies towards the many other opportunities that exist to help the country of Ukraine and its people,” he said.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan took to Twitter to thank Ukraine’s president and the Saudi Crown Prince for their help in securing the release of the two Americans.

UK Prime Minister Liz Truss welcomed the release of five British nationals. “I thank @ZelenskyyUa for his efforts to secure the release of detainees, and Saudi Arabia for their assistance. Russia must end the ruthless exploitation of prisoners of war and civilian detainees for political ends,” she tweeted.

British MP Robert Jenrick said Aiden Aslin was one of the British nationals released. Aslin was captured earlier this year by Russian forces during the battle for Mariupol and later sentenced to death by a court in the Russian-backed breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic.

There are ongoing efforts to secure a prisoner swap of 50 Ukrainians in exchange for 200 Russians, including what reports indicate could be one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s close allies, Viktor Medvedchuk. Medvedchuk was captured by Ukrainians in April.

It is unclear whether Wednesday’s prisoner release was part of that specific deal.

In recent weeks, Ukraine launched a counteroffensive and recaptured land taken by Russia in northeast and southern Ukraine, including the towns of Izyum and Kupiansk and around Kharkiv.

On Wednesday, Putin ordered a partial Russian mobilization and Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said 300,000 reservists would be called up to protect what the Kremlin claims are its lands.

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