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HomeInternational NewsAlex Drueke, Andy Huynh element Russian beatings, interrogation

Alex Drueke, Andy Huynh element Russian beatings, interrogation


Andy Tai Huynh, left, and Alex Drueke were released from captivity Sept. 21. In their first extensive media interview since their release, the pair say they were interrogated, subjected to physical and psychological abuse, and given little food or clean water.
Andy Tai Huynh, left, and Alex Drueke have been launched from captivity Sept. 21. Of their first intensive media interview since their launch, the pair say they have been interrogated, subjected to bodily and psychological abuse, and given little meals or clear water. (William DeShazer for The Washington Put up)

Of their first intensive interview since being freed, Alex Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh recount the bodily and psychological abuse they endured over 104 days in captivity

TRINITY, Ala. — Alex Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh evaded Russian forces for hours, slogging via pine forests and marshes in Ukraine to keep away from detection. The U.S. navy veterans have been left behind — “deserted,” they stated — after their Ukrainian process power was attacked, and decided that their greatest probability of survival was to hike again to their base in Kharkiv.

What adopted was an excruciating, typically terrifying 104 days in captivity. They have been interrogated, subjected to bodily and psychological abuse, and given little meals or clear water, Drueke and Huynh recalled. Initially, they have been taken into Russia, to a detention advanced dotted with tents and ringed by barbed wire, they stated. Their captors later moved them, first to a “black web site” the place the beatings worsened, Drueke stated, after which to what they known as a extra conventional jail run by Russian-backed separatists within the Donetsk area of jap Ukraine.

Drueke, 40, and Huynh, 27, met with The Washington Put up for 3 hours on the house of Huynh’s fiancee, Pleasure Black, on this rural city of about 2,500 outdoors Huntsville. It was their first intensive media interview since being freed on Sept. 21 as a part of a sprawling prisoner change between Russia and Ukraine.

Every man misplaced almost 30 kilos throughout the ordeal, they stated, struggling accidents most evident within the purple and purple welts nonetheless current the place their wrists have been sure. Their account gives disturbing new perception into how Russia and its proxy forces in Ukraine deal with these taken off the battlefield.

The Russian embassy in Washington didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Individuals freed in sprawling Russia-Ukraine prisoner change

Drueke and Huynh went to Ukraine regardless of stern warnings from the U.S. State Division that taking on arms towards Russian forces was unsafe and ill-advised. They joined the Worldwide Legion of Territorial Protection of Ukraine, a power comprising a whole lot of Individuals, Europeans and different overseas nationals who responded to public entreaties from the nation’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Drueke and Huynh stated they’re grateful to be alive and free, and to have had one another’s assist and friendship via their captivity. They expressed no remorse. Their objectives now, they stated, are to attract consideration to Ukraine’s navy wants, and lift consciousness about one other American veteran with whom they have been imprisoned, Suedi Murekezi, who shared a cell with them for weeks however was not included within the prisoner swap. He’s among the many handful of U.S. residents detained by Russia for whom a diplomatic breakthrough has up to now proved elusive.

“Alex and I by no means did this to change into well-known,” Huynh stated. “We by no means needed to change into well-known.”

Drueke, a U.S. Military veteran, and Huynh, who served within the Marines, stated they have been compelled to behave after seeing photographs, early within the warfare, of Ukrainian households fleeing their properties as Russian forces leveled cities of their savage however in the end failed bid to grab the capital, Kyiv, and topple Zelensky’s Western-backed authorities.

Drueke had been residing with relations in Tuscaloosa, Ala., after being identified as a 100-percent fight disabled veteran with post-traumatic stress, he stated. He’d grown smitten by long-distance mountain mountain climbing. Huynh, a California native, had moved to northern Alabama to be along with his fiancee, taking group school courses and dealing as a supply driver for O’Reilly Auto Components.

Huynh left the USA on April 8 to hitch a humanitarian group serving to in Ukraine, he stated. Drueke left 4 days later, believing that his expertise throughout the Iraq Battle and familiarity with Western weapons might show useful to Ukrainian forces, he stated.

Inside days, they signed contracts with the overseas legion in Lviv, in western Ukraine close to Poland’s border, becoming a member of the identical battalion and receiving AK-74 rifles for coaching removed from the preventing. They’d introduced their very own camouflage uniforms and different tools.

Each adopted noms de guerre. Drueke was named “Bama,” in honor of his house state. Huynh glided by “Hate,” a shortened model of “Reaper of Hate,” a moniker he utilized in on-line video video games.

“It was sort of a satire title as a result of I’m probably not a hateful individual,” Huynh stated. “Fairly the alternative.”

“We known as him Care Bear,” Drueke interjected with amusing.

The lads determined that “their abilities could possibly be higher utilized elsewhere” within the warfare, and requested a launch from the contract that they had signed with their first unit, Drueke stated. For the following few weeks, they traveled the nation by bus and prepare in what they known as “trip mode,” assembly with Ukrainian navy officers about potential alternatives and marveling as civilians returned to their properties in and across the capital.

With time operating out on their 90-day visas, they linked in Kyiv with a consultant from Job Power Baguette, a navy unit affiliated with the overseas legion that included French troopers and different Westerners. The unit promised a Ukrainian navy contract, permitting them to remain within the nation and combat. This time, they have been despatched east and issued Czech-made CZ 208 rifles, to a base near Russia’s border.

Regardless of dangers and official warnings, U.S. veterans be a part of the Ukrainian warfare effort

Their first mission, in early June, could be their final.

That morning, the unit left Kharkiv in a pickup truck and two small sport-utility automobiles, heading north. Their task was to launch small drones, look ahead to Russian navy forces and report what they noticed, Drueke stated.

However the unit was ambushed, and within the making certain firefight everybody scattered, the Individuals stated. Drueke, Huynh and their group chief started looking for a machine-gunner and sniper who’d gone lacking, solely to study that different members of the unit had taken their automobiles — and most of their meals and water — and returned to base with out them, Drueke stated.

A consultant for Job Power Baguette denied that Drueke and Huynh have been left behind, saying the group scattered in 5 teams and that every needed to make it again to security on their very own “as no person knew what occurred to the others.” He declined to elaborate. In a tweet, the unit celebrated their launch, thanking them for his or her service and calling Drueke and Huynh “heroes.”

Drueke and Huynh declined to element the exact location or nature of their seize, however acknowledged opening fireplace throughout the ambush. After they have been taken into custody, they have been stripped of their gear and weapons, and sure. As they crossed the border into Russia, Drueke stated, their captors famous their new location, slugged them within the intestine, and stated “Welcome to Russia.”

The Individuals have been blindfolded for a lot of the subsequent few days, they stated. Sometimes, their captors would take them off, permitting them to catch a glimpse of their environment. The Russians hid their faces behind tan balaclavas.

The camp, the Individuals stated, was a “tent metropolis,” with six or seven prisoners of warfare held in every tent, Huynh stated. Twin chain-link fences and barbed wire surrounded the compound.

The interrogations there, Drueke stated, have been “horrible.” The Russians appeared to doubt that they have been rank-and-file members of a Ukrainian navy unit. They requested Drueke and Huynh repeatedly in the event that they have been with the CIA, the Individuals recalled. They ordered them onto their palms and knees, leaving them like that till their ft grew numb. In the event that they moved, they have been crushed, they recalled. At night time, Drueke and Huynh have been pressured to stay on their ft for hours at a time to stop them from sleeping.

“They actually thought that we had been despatched by our authorities, or had a considerable amount of authorities assist,” Drueke stated. “They actually needed to ensure we weren’t mendacity about that — they usually had their methods of doing that.”

Many of the prisoners gave the impression to be Ukrainian, the Individuals stated. One who spoke English appeared to probably be a British nationwide. Within the Sept. 21 prisoner swap, 5 British residents additionally have been freed, together with people from Morocco, Sweden and Croatia, greater than 200 Ukrainians, 55 Russian troops and a detailed acquaintance of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Who was launched within the Russia-Ukraine prisoner swap

4 days later, the Individuals have been on the transfer once more, they stated, taken to a black web site detention middle within the Donetsk area of jap Ukraine, the place Russian separatists have energy. The prisoners traveled for hours with luggage over their heads, the Individuals stated, and swapped automobiles 4 occasions.

Drueke realized Huynh was with him solely as a result of he was tossed on prime of him in one of many automobiles, prompting Huynh to reply with an “ouch” that Drueke acknowledged, he stated. In such a dire state of affairs, it was a aid.

Their remedy worsened on the subsequent location, they stated.

Many of the detainees have been stored in a chilly basement divided into tiled cells, every about 5 ft lengthy and a pair of ft extensive, Huynh recalled. They acquired a loaf of bread every day, together with water that always gave the impression to be contaminated. Huynh stated he might hear screams — and cries of ache — as interrogations have been carried out.

“That was one of many worst components,” Huynh stated. “Listening to folks being damage and never with the ability to do something about it.”

Upstairs, a barely bigger room was used for solitary confinement. Huynh spent the primary two days there earlier than Drueke was put there for a number of weeks. About 80 songs of standard music, together with from the rapper Eminem and the German metallic band Rammstein, have been pumped into the room on rotation for days, they stated, shattering the peace however permitting them to mark the passage of time.

“They actually, actually stored us separate there,” Drueke stated. “There have been occasions the place I’d go days with out listening to something about Andy and a variety of occasions I used to be like, ‘Man, they killed him.’ ”

Beatings continued, which a few of their captors seeming to relish meting out greater than others. A British man, Paul Urey, suffered beatings on the identical facility and died there, Drueke and Huynh stated. Ukrainian overseas minister Dmytro Kuleba introduced Sept. 7 that the Ukrainian authorities had recovered Urey’s physique and that it had “indicators of potential unspeakable torture.”

Lots of the questions posed by interrogators appeared nonsensical, asking the Individuals to establish images of individuals they didn’t know and element occasions wherein that they had no involvement. One of many males spoke near-fluent English, whereas one other knew solely some, Drueke stated. He believes they have been Russian intelligence officers.

Within the upstairs room, Drueke and Huynh every have been ordered to make telephone calls to seemingly random organizations in the USA, many not outfitted to assist them.

At one level, the captors advised Drueke to name the Veterans Disaster Line, a service that gives psychological well being assist to American navy personnel after they go away the service. Drueke stated he tried to dissuade them from doing it as a result of it made no sense, however his captors insisted.

“They take a look at me and go, ‘You’re a veteran. It is a disaster!’ ” Drueke recalled, imitating their accent.

Lots of the telephone calls went nowhere, getting misplaced in a maze of phone switchboards, voice-mail containers and Individuals who appeared to query whether or not the pleas for assist have been legit. However a consultant on the disaster hotline provided Drueke numbers for the State Division and one other federal company, probably the Federal Protecting Service, a legislation enforcement outfit affiliated with the Division of Homeland Safety Somebody picked up on the second quantity, Drueke stated, they usually took his data and promised to assist. It was a glimmer of hope.

A State Division official, talking on the situation of anonymity below floor guidelines set by the company, stated it takes significantly its dedication to help U.S. residents abroad, with U.S. diplomatic services placing after-hours responsibility officers on workers to take care of life-or-death emergencies.

“When U.S. residents are being held in energetic warfare zones, it’s unimaginable to offer in-person help,” the official stated. “Whatever the challenges, we make each effort to offer help to U.S. residents and their households.”

The captors, who have been armed, ordered Drueke and Huynh to look in propaganda interviews that appeared on Russian state media, and noticed as they have been recorded, Drueke stated. In a single revealed June 17, they expressed frustration with corruption within the Ukrainian navy and warned different Individuals to “suppose twice” about becoming a member of the warfare effort. Drueke stated it nonetheless bothers him that he needed to say such issues.

‘I really prayed for dying’

The Individuals, together with a number of different prisoners, have been moved once more about 4 weeks later, Drueke and Huynh stated. Becoming a member of them was Murekezi, a U.S. Air Power veteran who was despatched to the black web site after being detained within the southern metropolis of Kherson in June. He had been residing and dealing in Ukraine when Russia invaded, and declined to depart the nation. Russia-backed separatists kidnapped him and accused him of a hate crime, stated Sele Murekezi, Suedi’s brother, who lives in Minnesota.

There have been no beatings on the subsequent facility, however circumstances have been nonetheless abysmal, the Individuals stated. Bedbugs gnawed at their pores and skin, leaving the partitions of their cell streaked with blood, Huynh stated. His arms and again remained closely scarred by the bugs greater than per week after he was launched.

The Individuals had no concept {that a} prisoner swap was below dialogue, and questioned if it was true even after they have been faraway from their cells and advised they have been going house. Their palms and eyes have been sure excruciatingly tight with packing tape for his or her flight to a small Russian airstrip, in circumstances that they described as agonizingly painful however declined to element absolutely.

“For me personally, it was absolutely the worst,” Drueke stated. “I spotted a variety of occasions all through that I might die, or that I used to be near dying, or that I most likely was going to die. However that was the one time that I really prayed for dying.”

After they landed, they have been greeted by Saudi medical personnel. They have been whisked from there to Riyadh, the place they met with State Division personnel and known as family members.

The 2 males are nonetheless receiving medical care. Each have numbness of their palms, a potential symptom of nerve injury, they stated. Drueke believes he might have cracked 4 ribs. Huynh is scuffling with short-term reminiscence loss and stated that his thoughts “deteriorated” in captivity.

The pair are occupied with serving to the U.S. authorities by relating their experiences by the hands of Putin’s forces, they stated. Different Individuals, together with WNBA star Brittney Griner and Marine Corps veteran Paul Whelan, are incarcerated inside Russia on what the Biden administration considers bogus felony convictions unrelated to the warfare.

“It sounds trite, however we got a second probability on life,” Drueke stated. “I really feel like our experiences, if we deal with them the fitting means, we probably have quite a bit to present the world.”

Alice Crites contributed to this report.

Battle in Ukraine: What it is advisable to know

The newest: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees Friday to annex 4 occupied areas of Ukraine, following staged referendums that have been broadly denounced as unlawful. Observe our reside updates right here.

The response: The Biden administration on Friday introduced a new spherical of sanctions on Russia, in response to the annexations, focusing on authorities officers and relations, Russian and Belarusian navy officers and protection procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky additionally stated Friday that Ukraine is making use of for “accelerated ascension” into NATO, in an obvious reply to the annexations.

In Russia: Putin declared a navy mobilization on Sept. 21 to name up as many as 300,000 reservists in a dramatic bid to reverse setbacks in his warfare on Ukraine. The announcement led to an exodus of greater than 180,000 folks, principally males who have been topic to service, and renewed protests and different acts of defiance towards the warfare.

The combat: Ukraine mounted a profitable counteroffensive that pressured a significant Russian retreat within the northeastern Kharkiv area in early September, as troops fled cities and villages that they had occupied for the reason that early days of the warfare and deserted giant quantities of navy tools.

Images: Washington Put up photographers have been on the bottom from the start of the warfare — right here’s a few of their strongest work.

How one can assist: Listed below are methods these within the U.S. can assist the Ukrainian folks in addition to what folks around the globe have been donating.

Learn our full protection of the Russia-Ukraine warfare. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and unique video.




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