September 27, 2022

Prisoner swap: Families of captured Americans freed in Ukraine describe the moments they found out they were coming home

2 min read

Then, they received unexpected phone calls.

“I have your son standing next to me,” Bani Drouk recalled saying to a woman at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. Droke was reading a book to her grandson when the phone rang.

“I went ‘Alex?’ And I heard her say, ‘Hey mom, it’s me, your favorite child,'” Droke said as she cried after hearing her son for the first time since his arrest overseas.

“I’m free,” he told her.

Drouk and Haven went missing on June 9 while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces during fighting north of Kharkiv. Two people from Alabama occupied by Russian-backed forces For months before their release, along with five British nationals, as part of a Exchange of prisoners between Russia and Ukraine which was mediated by Saudi Arabia.

The families did not know that the exchange of prisoners was going on.

2 Americans and 5 Britons held hostage by Russian-backed forces in Ukraine

“My brain didn’t get it because there was no warning,” the mother told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

Huynh’s fiancee, Joy Black, told CNN’s Erin Burnett that she was also surprised when she got a call from Saudi Arabia while at work on Wednesday.

It was a US embassy official on the phone, who quickly turned it over to Huynh.

“It was amazing to finally hear her voice again and talk to her,” Blake said. “I was still kind of in shock, so I was like, ‘How do I know it’s really you?’ And he jokingly said we were into each other and immediately I was like, ‘This is it, this is really it.’

Joey Black talks with CNN.

To finally get back home, his fiance requested spaghetti with meat — a meal he’d been craving since living in the Ukraine — as soon as he returned to Alabama, Blake said. She added that she was hoping it would arrive on Friday.

Blake added, “I told him we’ve been waiting for this call for so long, he said he’s counting down the days too. It’s great to know he’s okay and he’s coming home. ” Blake added.

Drewke said he is excited for Alex to fly as soon as he and Haven are medically cleared.

“I feel like I’m floating right now, I’m so happy,” Droke’s mother said.

CNN’s Dave Alsop contributed to this report.

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