During the prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine, Americans wondered if death would come

Led by camera deep into Russian-occupied Ukraine, Alexander Drukis and Andy Tai Huynh ponder their unknown fate: Will they be released or will they be killed?

Days after their arrest in June, the Kremlin made the announcement Both He was an American veteran suspected war criminals and refusal to disqualify They may face the death penalty. On the phone with his aunt Thursday, Drake said it felt like something at the time – You can go either way.

“It was one of those moments that just hit me so hard,” said aunt Diana Shaw.

The Americans were released Wednesday as part of a prisoner swap between the governments of Kiev and Moscow, a deal as stunning as it was viral. In addition to Drivik, 40, and Huynh, 28, the Russian government agreed to release eight other foreign nationals who had joined the war on behalf of Ukraine, as well as 215 Ukrainians. Fifty-five The Russian fighters were released in exchange for Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian opposition politician with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is believed to be the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter.

The Americans were freed under a broad Russian-Ukrainian prisoner exchange deal

Details of the joint transaction when sharing The Saudi and Turkish governments continued the flow on Thursday. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters while addressing the United Nations General Assembly To exchange prisoners in New York This was the result of a “diplomatic move” I made together with Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. It is an “important step” to end the war that began seven months ago, according to the text of his remarks, carried by state media. Ankara too He played a key role in brokering a breakthrough deal this summer that allowed grain exports to resume after Russia closed Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to its navy, but RT Erdogan has so far failed to secure a face-to-face meeting between Putin and Zelensky. .

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, where Darweik and Houyina are recovering, also played a role in the release of the foreign nationals. A prominent member of the Saudi government on Thursday

Explain his “active role in promoting humanitarian initiatives”. The US government has expressed gratitude to the crown prince for his efforts to secure the release of the Americans, but relations between the two countries remain strained over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, particularly over Mohammed’s alleged role in coordinating it. Plot to kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

There was anger in Russia among some nationalists who saw the deal as a betrayal. Medvedchuk was once seen as a possible alternative to Zelensky after Russian forces successfully toppled the government in Kiev and installed a puppet regime. Many of the Ukrainians released in exchange for Medvedchuk and other Russians were members of the far-right Azov Regiment, a military force that Putin has called Nazis.

In Ukraine – where the Azov forces were I am happy for their courage in bloody Russia The siege of Mariupol – the deal was celebrated.

“He’s telling Putin that he was elected to trade his friend and one of his longtime proxies in Ukraine, Medvedchuk, for the heroes of Mariupol,” said a senior State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomacy. further evidence of how the Russian leader puts himself before the interests of the Russian people.

“So that’s it [war] It’s terrible for Ukraine… It’s terrible for the people of Russia, the official said. – Putin chose his empty imperial ambitions over the needs of his people.

Kiril Budanov, who leads Ukraine’s military intelligence directorate said some freed Ukrainians had been “extremely brutally tortured” in captivity. It is unclear whether Drueke and Huynh experienced this Treatment, although there are indications that both have gone through phases of physical deterioration that may take time.

Drewic’s aunt said her nephew hasn’t shared much yet Details with his family about how the kidnappers are treating him and his family. She said Drueke and Huynh have some “minor, minor, minor health concerns” and are both “extremely dehydrated,” noting the family isn’t sure when Drueke and Huynh will be ready for the 14-hour flight home to Alabama. Saudi Arabia.

Footage of the release of the prisoners was shown on German television station Deutsche Welle showing an emaciated and gaunt Darwick being helped as he walked by what appeared to be medical staff. But he was carrying his bag.

Drake, a former US soldier, and Huynh, a Marine veteran, went missing near the city of Kharkiv on June 8 while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces. The Druk family believe they were captured several times and may have been held in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

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

Since their release, American veterans have been sharing an apartment in Saudi Arabia as they take their first steps toward recovery. Shaw said ex-prisoners are well aware that returning to normal life can be a long road.

“He didn’t feel sorry for me at all — he looked like he was happy to go home,” Shaw said. “He is still very impressed with the Ukrainian people.”

Karim Fahim in Beirut. Robin Dixon and Marie Ilyushina in Riga, Latvia; and John Hudson in New York contributed to this report.

The war in Ukraine: what you need to know

Last: Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 21. announced a partial mobilization of troops in a speech to the nation, framing the move as an attempt to defend Russia’s sovereignty against the West, which seeks to use Ukraine as a tool to “divide and destroy Russia.” . . Follow us for live updates here.

Combat: A successful counterattack by Ukraine in recent days has forced a large-scale Russian withdrawal from the northeastern Kharkiv region, as troops fled the towns and villages they had captured since the first days of the war, leaving behind large amounts of military equipment.

Annexation referendums: Russian news agencies have reported that interim referendums, which would be illegal under international law, are planned for September 23-27 in the breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. The Moscow-appointed administration in Kherson will hold another referendum in stages starting Friday.

Pictures: Washington Post photographers have been on the job since the war began. Here are some of their most powerful works.

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