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American POWs fighting for Ukraine 'prayed for death' fearing they'd never come home

Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh and Alexander John-Robert Drueke were released last month after spending three months in brutal Russian custody.
Freelance, Washington Post, Russia, Ukraine, prisoner swap,
Andy Huynh, left, and Alex Drueke were released in September in the massive Russian-Ukraine prisoner swap. Both were tortured by Russian soldiers and lost 20-30 pounds while in prison.William DeShazer / The Washington Post via Getty Images

A pair of American veterans, taken prisoner while fighting for Ukraine, said Russian captors relentlessly tortured them to the point where they "prayed for death," according to a broadcast interview aired Thursday.

Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, and Alexander John-Robert Drueke, 40, were released last month after spending three months in brutal Russian custody, they told ABC's "Good Morning America" in their first TV interview since being released.

Even after their release had been secured through back channel Saudi Arabian negotiators, their most harrowing moments came at the end of captivity, the former prisoners said.

Captors tied them up, blindfolded with packing tape, secured bags over their heads and stacked them in back of a truck, the former prisoners said.

"We prayed for death" at that moment, Huynh said. "We just wanted to die. We just wanted it to end."

The fact they were about to go free didn't lessen their despair in those final hours of captivity.

"Even if it is an exchange (of prisoners), I don't care. This just has to stop," Drueke said.

Huynh added: "We wanted to die. The process to getting free was a very high price."

The pair didn't totally understand their ordeal was done until they met with American officials.

"I didn't fully believe that I was getting released until a U.S. embassy representative said, 'This is real brother. You are being exchanged. This is real, you are safe,' " Huynh said.

Both men said they had no regrets fighting alongside Ukrainians as they fend off Russian invaders.

"I think I'd go back (to Ukraine) in a slightly different capacity," Drueke said. "I would go back for rebuilding after the war."

Representatives of the Kremlin could not be immediately reached for comment on Thursday.

The two American fighters, who are both from Alabama but didn't know each other until meeting in Ukraine, said they were captured after an eight-hour race through the woods.

"What should have been a simple recon mission wasn’t a simple recon mission," Huynh said.

As soon as they were captured, their hands were tied behind their backs and heads covered with bags, the former prisoners recounted.

"We were pretty darn sure they were going to execute us," Drueke said.

Huynh added: "My first thought was actually my fiancee. A split second right after, 'Oh, I'm going to die.' "

Throughout their 105 days of confinement, they were regularly beaten, tortured and deprived of sleep and water, they said.

Drueke recalled the countless times he heard Huynh agonizing in pain as he was being tortured by Russians.

Amazingly, Drueke said he took the most positive outlook possible on hearing his comrade's agony.

"My mission was to keep Andy alive and Andy's mission was to keep me alive," said Drueke, who suffered four broken ribs due to Russian torture.

"It's awful because I knew he's in pain. At least I knew (the sounds of Huynh's torture showed) he was alive. It’s good and bad at the same time."

Interrogators demanded to know what CIA or other covert connections they had, the pair said.

Both men insisted they went to Ukraine on their own, without any American backing, after seeing news footage of Russia's unprovoked attack on its small western neighbor.

"The U.S. government will not be backing me up on this and I was aware of that. I was 100% aware of that," Huynh said. "It scared me. I still know I had to go."