For months, the families of American veterans Alexander John-Robert Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, who were captured while fighting in Ukraine, had heard nothing from them.
Then, they got unexpected phone calls.
“I have your son standing right next to me,” Bunny Drueke recalled a woman from the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia telling her Wednesday. Drueke had been reading a book to her grandson when the phone rang.
“I went ‘Alex?’ and I heard him say ‘Hi Momma, it’s me, your favorite child,’” Drueke said as she tearfully recalled hearing her son for the first time since his capture overseas.
“I’m free,” he told her.
Drueke and Huynh went missing while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces during a battle north of Kharkiv on June 9. The two Alabama men had been held by Russian-backed forces for months before their release, along with five British citizens, as part of a prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine that was brokered by Saudi Arabia.
The families did not know the prisoner exchange was in the works.
“My mind just couldn’t comprehend it because there had been no warning. It just came out of the blue,” the mother told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Huynh’s fianceé, Joy Black, told CNN’s Erin Burnett she was also surprised when she got a call from Saudi Arabia while at work Wednesday.
It was an official from the US Embassy on the phone, who quickly handed it over to Huynh.
“It was just so amazing to finally get to hear his voice again and speak to him,” Black said. “I was still kind of in shock, so I was like ‘How do I know it’s really you?’ and he said this inside joke we have between each other and instantly I was like, ‘It’s him. It’s really him.’”
Finally set to return home, her fiancé requested spaghetti with meat – a meal he had been craving since being in Ukraine – as soon as he gets back to Alabama, Black said, adding that she is hoping for him to arrive Friday.
“I told him we’ve been waiting for this call for so long, he said he’s been counting the days, too. It’s just so good to know that they are okay and that they’re going to come home,” Black added.
Drueke said she is excited for Alex to get back home as soon as he and Huynh are medically cleared to fly.
“I feel like I’m just floating, I’m so happy,” Drueke’s mom said.
CNN’s Dave Alsup contributed to this report.